Come February 2014, much to the relief of more than 145,000 patients diagnosed with breast cancer in India, Herceptin of Roche, a critical drug for the treatment of the dreaded disease, will face competition, for the first time, from a less expensive biosimilar equivalent. The product named Canmab developed together with Mylan by Biocon has been priced 25 percent less than Herceptin.
Patient access issue for newer cancer therapy:
Herceptin has been a very critical drug, though equally expensive, for breast cancer patients globally.
Mainly because of its unusual high price, the product created an access barrier to majority of patients in India. Arising out of complexity of the problem faced by the cancer patients, hugely compounded by the affordability issue, on January 12, 2013, it was first reported that in a move that is intended to benefit thousands of cancer patients, Indian Government has started the process of issuing Compulsory Licenses (CL) for three commonly used anti-cancer drugs:
- Trastuzumab (or Herceptin, used for breast cancer),
- Ixabepilone (used for chemotherapy)
- Dasatinib (used to treat leukemia).
For a month’s treatment drugs like, Trastuzumab, Ixabepilone and Dasatinib reportedly cost on an average of US$ 3,000 – 4,500 or Rs 1.64 – 2.45 lakh for each patient in India.
Pricing issue needs a systemic resolution:
While there is no single or only right way to arrive at the price of a patent protected medicine, how much the pharmaceutical manufacturers will charge for such drugs still remains an important, yet complex and difficult issue to resolve, both locally and globally. Even in the developed nations, where an appropriate healthcare infrastructure is already in place, this issue comes up too often mainly during price negotiation for reimbursed drugs.
A paper titled, “Pharmaceutical Price Controls in OECD Countries”, published by the U.S. Department of Commerce, after examining the drug price regulatory systems of 11 OECD countries, concluded that all of them enforce some form of price control to limit spending on pharmaceuticals. The report also indicated that the reimbursement prices in these countries are often treated as de facto market price.
Though there is no such system currently prevailing in India, the Government is mulling to put in place a similar mechanism for patented medicines, as captured in the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Policy (NPPP) 2012.
Further, some OECD governments regularly cut prices of even those drugs, which are already in the market. The value of health outcomes and pharmacoeconomics analysis is gaining increasing importance for drug price negotiations/control by the healthcare regulators even in various developed markets of the world to ensure responsible pricing of IPR protected medicines. For various reasons, no such process is followed either for such product pricing in India, as on date.
Roche changed Herceptin strategy for India:
To effectively address the challenge of pricing of patented medicines in India, Roche reportedly entered into a ‘never-before’ technology transfer and manufacturing contract for biologics with a local Indian company – Emcure Pharma for its two widely acclaimed ‘Monoclonal Antibodies’ anti-cancer drugs – Herceptin and MabThera.
Consequently, Roche introduced its ‘made in India’ brand Herclon (Herceptin) with a much-reduced maximum retail price of about Rs. 75,000 for a 440 mg vial and started co-marketing the product with Emcure Pharma in India.
Although Herceptin patent remains valid in the United States (US) until 2018, Roche decided to discontinue its patent rights for Herceptin in India in 2013.
The pharma major reportedly lost this patent earlier in Europe. This vindicates the views of many experts that Herceptin patent was weak, as it would probably not be able to clear the litmus test of a stringent scrutiny under the Patent Acts of India. The report, therefore, argues that core reason for withdrawal of Herceptin patent in India by Roche cannot be attributed, even remotely, to the ‘weak IP ecosystem’ in India.
According to reports Biocon’s Canmab, the biosimilar version of Herceptin, will be available in 440 mg vial with a maximum retail price of Rs. 57,500 and also in 150 mg vial at Rs. 19,500.
Lower price would lead to greater patient access – Roche argued earlier:
It was reported, when Roche switched over to Herclon with around 30 percent discounted price from very high price Herceptin, access to the drug improved. In fact, that was the logic cited by Roche for the launch of Herclon in India at that time.
Just to recapitulate, media reports indicated at that time that Roche intends to offer to Indian patients significantly cheaper, local branded version of Herceptin sooner. The same news item also quoted Roche spokesperson from Basel, Switzerland commenting as follows:
“The scope is to enable access for a large majority of patients who currently pay out of pocket as well as to partner with the government to enable increased access to our products for people in need”.
It is beyond doubt that even with significantly lower price, Canmab would not be able to guarantee 100 percent access to the drug for all breast cancer patients in the country.
However, applying the same logic of Roche, as mentioned above, with further 25 percent price discount for Canmab by Biocon, the access to this drug should expand significantly for over 145,000 diagnosed breast cancer patients in India even, for an argument’s sake, all other factors, including inadequate number diagnostic facilities etc. remain the same. Isn’t that better?
By: Tapan J. 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