The Department Related Parliamentary Committee on Health and Family Welfare presented its 59th Report of 118 pages in total on the functioning of the Indian Drug Regulator – the Central Drug Standards Control Organization (CDSCO) in both the houses of the Parliament on May 08, 2012.
Regulations and the Regulator for the Pharmaceutical Industry of India – A snapshot:
The pharmaceutical industry in India is regulated, broadly, in the following ways:
- Drugs and Cosmetics Act of India 1940 together with Drugs and Cosmetics Rules regulate the Pharmaceutical Industry across the country for all types of drugs, irrespective of the fact whether these are locally produced or imported from other countries of the world.
- The office of the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) is primarily responsible for effective enforcement of most of these laws and rules across the country.
- All issues related to clinical trials, product approval and standards, import licenses and introduction of new drugs are the direct responsibilities of the DCGI’s office.
- Health being a state subject in India, on the ground, Foods and Drugs Administrations (FDA) of the State Governments enforce laws related to approvals for setting up pharmaceutical production facilities and obtaining licenses to stock and sell drugs in their respective states.
- A valid license from the Drug Regulator is necessary for location-wise manufacturing of each type of drugs in the country with a mandatory requirement of periodic renewal of such licenses, as specified therein.
A key point to ponder from the Report:
The report begins with the following observations:
Medicines apart from their critical role in alleviating human suffering and saving lives have very sensitive and typical dimensions for a variety of reasons. They are the only commodity for which the consumers have neither a role to play nor are they able to make any informed choices except to buy and consume whatever is prescribed or dispensed to them because of the following reasons:
- Drug regulators decide which medicines can be marketed
- Pharmaceutical companies either produce or import drugs that they can profitably sell
- Doctors decide which drugs and brands to prescribe
- Consumers are totally dependent on and at the mercy of external entities to protect their interests.
In this prevailing condition, the committee felt that effective and transparent drug regulation, free from all commercial influences, is absolutely essential to ensure safety, efficacy and quality of drugs keeping just one objective in mind, i.e., welfare of patients.
Quite in congruence with this critical requirement the Committee examined in detail the functioning of CDSCO, which includes the office of the DCGI, as well, to ascertain whether applicable rules and laws are being implemented efficiently and honestly for the best interest of patients by the Drug Regulator of India.
Why is the ‘Mission Statement’ of CDSCO industry oriented and not patient focused?
Very interestingly, the report highlights with the following examples, how out of line the ‘Mission Statement’ of CDSCO is as compared to the same of other countries by being blatantly industry oriented instead of safeguarding Public Health and safety:
The ‘Mission Statement’
|Meeting the aspirations…. demands and requirements of the pharmaceutical industry.
|Protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs.
|To enhance and safeguard the health of the public by ensuring that medicines and medical devices work, and are acceptably safe.
|Safeguarding public health & safety in Australia by regulatingMedicines…
Consequently, the Committee took a very strong exception for such utter disregard and continued neglect of patients’ interest by the Drug Regulator of India and recommended immediate amendment of the ‘Mission Statement’ of CDSCO incorporating in very clear terms that the existence of the organization is solely for the purpose of protecting the best interest of patients and their safety. It is needless to say that thereafter, it will require stringent conformance with the same with high precision.
Some very critical findings:
The committee in its report made the following critical findings, besides others:
- “A total of 31 new drugs were approved in the period January 2008 to October 2010 without conducting clinical trials on Indian patients.
- Thirteen drugs scrutinized by the panel are not allowed to be sold in the United States, Canada, Britain, European Union and Australia.
- Sufficient evidence is available on record to conclude that there is collusive nexus between drug manufacturers, some functionaries of CDSCO and some medical experts.
- When it comes to approving new drugs, too much is left to the absolute discretion of the CDSCO officials.
- The Central Government can either issue directions under Section 33P to states to withdraw the licenses of FDCs granted without prior DCGI approval or the Central Government can itself ban such FDCs under Section 26A.
- Though the Ministry is forming Drug Approval Committees, which are given very important powers, there is no transparent procedure for the selection of experts of such Committees.
- Accurate information on drugs for patients is absolutely essential to prevent inappropriate use more particularly in children, elderly, during pregnancy and lactation.
- Due to the sensitive nature of clinical trials in which foreign companies are involved in a big way and a wide spectrum of ethical issues and legal angles, different aspects of Clinical trials need a thorough and in-depth review.”
The Report named some pharmaceutical companies:
While arriving at these points, the report indicted some pharmaceutical companies, both national and international as follows (in alphabetical order):
|Pharmacia (acquired by Pfizer)
|Phamasset Inc. (a subsidiary of Gilead)
A scathing remark against CDSCO:
The report made the following scathing remarks on CDSCO in its point 2.2:
“The Committee is of the firm opinion that most of the ills besetting the system of drugs regulation in India are mainly due to the skewed priorities and perceptions of CDSCO. For decades together it has been according primacy to the propagation and facilitation of the drugs industry, due to which, unfortunately, the interest of the biggest stakeholder i.e. the consumer has never been ensured.”
Allegation of possible collusion needs to be thoroughly probed:
The report also deliberates not only on the utter systemic failure of CDSCO along with the DCGI’s office to enforce law effectively, but also towards a possible collusion between CDSCO and the pharmaceutical industry to implement a self-serving agenda by hoodwinking the system. This is a very serious allegation, which needs to be thoroughly probed and the findings of which should be made public for everybody’s satisfaction.
Parliamentary Committee Report is a ‘considered advice and of persuasive value’:
Though any report of such Parliamentary Committee has been stated to have a persuasive value and be treated as considered advice given by the Committee, which in this case is to CDSCO, DCGI, Ministry of Health and also the industry.
Some probes already initiated:
Reuters in its publication of May 9, 2012 indicated that this Parliamentary Committee Report has prompted greater scrutiny even from the US regulators, which are reportedly investigating a number of drug companies under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).
Initial reports also indicate that both the Indian Government and some large international pharmaceutical companies have announced detail probe based on this report at their respective ends.
Some remedial measures - Mashelkar Committee Recommendations:
Considering all these, besides taking appropriate remedial measures related to Clinical Trials of drugs in India, it is about time to reconsider the recommendations of Dr. R. A. Mashelkar Committee on the subject and make amendments in the Act accordingly to facilitate creation of a ‘Central Drugs Authority (CDA)’ introducing, along with other measures, a centralized licensing system for the manufacture, sale, export and distribution of drugs.
Why does India need CDA?
I firmly believe that the formation of the ‘Central Drugs Authority (CDA)’ will provide the following significant benefits to the Industry and also to the Government for the best interest of public health and safety:
- Achieving uniform interpretation of the provisions of the Drugs & Cosmetics Act & Rules
- Standardizing procedures and systems for drug control across the country
- Enabling coordinated nationwide action against spurious and substandard drugs
- Upholding uniform quality standards with respect to exports to foreign countries from anywhere in India
- Implementing uniform enforcement action in case of banned and irrational drugs
- Creating a pan-Indian approach to drug control and administration
- Evolving a single-window system for pharmaceutical manufacturing and research undertaken anywhere in the country.
As a consequence of the above report of the Parliamentary Committee identifying gross irregularities in the functioning of the CDSCO, the Minister of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) of India Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad has already announced constitution of a three-member committee to probe into the matter in depth.
Following well-known experts have been named as members of this high powered committee, which will submit its report and recommendations in two months’ time:
- Dr. V.M. Katoch: Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR),
- Dr. P.N. Tandon: President, National Brain Research Centre
- Dr. S.S. Aggarwal: Former Director, Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Lucknow
The committee has been mandated to:
- Examine the validity of the scientific and statutory basis adopted for approval of new drugs without clinical trials
- Outline appropriate measures to bring about systemic improvements in the processing and grant of statutory approvals
- Suggest steps to institutionalize improvements in other procedural aspects of functioning of the CDSCO
The outcome of the report of this high powered committee, internal probes voluntarily initiated by some pharmaceutical companies and possible implementation of the ‘Mashelkar Committee’ recommendations on the formation of CDA in the country will hopefully bring in some systemic changes in the drug regulatory system of India, for patients’ sake.
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.