Emerging markets and a robust oncology portfolio expected to be the future growth engine of the global pharmaceutical industry… but not without associated pricing pressures.

When the growth rate of the developed markets of the global pharmaceutical industry started slowing down along with the declining R&D productivity, the emerging markets were identified as the new ‘El-Dorado’ by the global players. At the same time, new launch of anti-cancer drugs, more in number, started giving additional thrust to the growth engine of the industry, at least in the developed markets and for the ‘creamy layers’ of the emerging markets of the world. As cancer is being considered as one of the terminal illnesses, the cancer patients from all over the world, would like to have their anti-cancer medications, at any cost, even if it means just marginal prolongation of life with a huge debt burden.According to a recent study done by the Cancer Research, UK, despite significant decline in the overall global pharmaceutical R&D productivity over a period of time, in a relative yardstick, newer anti-cancer drugs have started coming up to the global market with a much greater frequency than ever before. ‘Pharmacy Europe’reports that 18 percent, against a previous estimate of 5 percent of 974 anti-cancer drugs will see the light of the day in the global market place, passing through stringent regulatory requirements. This is happening mainly because of sharper understanding of the basic biology of the disease by the research scientists.Another study reports that between 1995 and 2007 such knowledge has helped the scientists to molecularly target ‘kinase inhibitors’, which are much less toxic and offers much better side effect profile. Well known anti-cancer drug Herceptin of Roche is one of the many outcomes of molecularly targeted research.

Price of Anti-cancer drugs:

Although in the battle against the much dreaded disease cancer, the newer drugs which are now coming to the market, are quite expensive. Even in the developed markets the healthcare providers are feeling the heat of the cost pressure of such medications, which would in turn impact the treatment decisions. Probably because of this reason, to help the oncologists to appropriately discuss the treatment cost of anti-cancer drugs with the patients, the American Society of Clinical Oncology recently has formed a task force for the same.

The issue is now being fiercely debated even in the developed markets of the world:

In the developed markets of the world, for expensive cancer medications, the patients are required to bear the high cost of co-payment, which may run equivalent to thousands of U.S dollars. Many patients are finding it difficult to arrange for such high co-payments.

Thus, it has been reported that even the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), UK considers some anti-cancer drugs not cost-effective enough for inclusion in the NHS formulary, sparking another set of raging debate.

‘The New England Journal of Medicine’ in one of its recent articles with detail analysis, expressed its concern over sharp increase in the price of anti-cancer medications, specifically.

Is the global pharmaceutical industry in a ‘gold rush’ to get into the oncology business?

Recently ‘The New York Times’ reported some interesting details. One such was on the global sales of anti-cancer drugs. The paper reports that in 1998 only 12 anti-cancer drugs featured within the top 200 drugs, ranked in terms of global value turnover of each. In that year Taxol was the only anti-cancer drug to achieve the blockbuster status with a value turnover of U.S$ 1 billion.

However, in 2008, within top 200 top selling drugs, 23 were for cancer with three in the top ten, clocking a global turnover of over U.S$ 1 billion each. 20 out of 126 drugs recording a sales turnover over U.S$ billion each, were for cancer, impressive commercial growth story of which is far from over now.

How to address this issue?

Experts are now deliberating upon to explore the possibility of creating a ‘comparative effectiveness center’ for anti-cancer drugs. This center will be entrusted with the responsibility to find out the most cost effective and best suited anti-cancer drugs that will be suitable for a particular patient, eliminating the possibility of wasteful expenses, if any, with the new drugs, just because of their newness and some additional features, which may not be relevant to a particular patient. If several drugs are found to be working equally well on a patient, most cost effective medication will be recommended to the particular individual.

Some new anti-cancer medications are of ‘me-too’ type:

The Journal of National Cancer Institute’ reports that some high price anti-cancer drugs are almost of ‘me too’ type, which can at best prolong the life of a patient by a few months or even weeks. To give an example the journal indicated, ‘Erbitux for instance, prolongs survival in lung cancer patients by 1.2 months… at a cost of U.S$ 80, 000 for an 18 – week course of treatment.’

However, the manufacturer of the drug later told ‘The Wall Street Journal’ (WSJ), ‘U.S.$ 80,000 is like a sticker price, but the street price is closer to U.S$ 10,000 per month” i.e around U.S$ 45,000 for 18 week course of treatment.

Conclusion:

Even in the developed countries, the heated debate on expensive new drugs, especially, in the oncology segment is brewing up and may assume a significant proportion in not too distant future. India being one of the promising emerging markets for the global pharmaceutical industry, willy nilly will get caught in this debate, possibly with a force multiplier effect, sooner than later.

By Tapan Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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