Fostering ‘Innovation’ and protecting of ‘Public Health Interest’: A formidable task for the new TF (taskforce)

‘The Lancet’, March 19, 2011 in its article titled “India: access to affordable drugs and the right to health”, where the authors reiterated:

‘The right to health is a fundamental right in India, judicially recognized under article 21 of the Constitution…Access to affordable drugs has been interpreted to be a part of right to health’.

Keeping in view of this ‘fundamental right’ of the citizens, public health related issues will continue to be treated as a subject of ‘Public Interest’ in the country.

At the same time, no one can wish away the fact that unmet medicinal needs of the ailing patients can only be met through discovery of innovative drugs. Hence, an innovation friendly ecosystem must necessarily be created in the country, simultaneously. This throws open the dual challenge to the government in the healthcare space of the nation – charting an appropriate pathway to foster a climate for innovation and at the same time protecting ‘Public Health Interest’ of its citizens.

The recent admirable response of the Ministry of Health:

Considering this dual healthcare related needs of the country, on March 15, 2011, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Minister of Health and Family Welfare, announced the formation of a 12-member task force that will evolve the following strategies under the chairmanship of V.M. Katoch, Secretary, Department of Health Research and Director-General, ICMR and will submit its report within three months.

  1. Evolving a short, medium and long-term policy and strategy to make India a hub for drug discovery, research and development.
  2. Evolving strategies to further the interests of Indian pharma industry in the light of issues related to intellectual property rights and recommend strategies to capitalise the opportunity of $60 to $80 billion drugs going off-patent over the next five years.
  3. Evolve policy measures to assure national drugs security by promoting indigenous production of bulk drugs, preventing takeover of Indian pharma industry by multi-national corporations, drug pricing, promotion of generic drugs
  4. Recommend measures to assure adequate availability of quality generic drugs at affordable prices.

Indian Pharmaceutical Industry is on a growth spree:

The pharmaceutical industry of India is currently playing a key role in promoting and sustaining development in the healthcare space of India. Due to significant cost arbitrage, educated and skilled manpower and cheap labor force among others, the industry is set to establish itself as a global force to reckon with, especially in the areas of generic formulations business, Contract Research and Manufacturing Services (CRAMS).

Estimates and Perspectives:

  • The pharma industry is growing at around 1.5-1.6 times the Gross Domestic Product growth of India
  • Currently, India ranks third in the world in terms of volume of manufacturing pharmaceutical products
  • The Indian pharmaceutical industry is expected to grow at a rate of around 15 % till 2015
  • The retail pharmaceutical market in India is expected to cross US$ 20 billion by 2015
  • According to a study by FICCI-Ernst & Young India will open a probable US$ 8 billion market for MNCs selling patented drugs in India by 2015
  • The number of pharmaceutical retailers is estimated to grow from 5.5 lakh to 7.5 lakhs by 2015
  • At least 2 lakh more pharma graduates would be required by the Indian pharmaceutical industry by 2015
  • The Indian drug and pharmaceuticals sector attracted foreign direct investment to the tune of US$ 1.43 billion from April 2000 to December 2008 (Ministry of Commerce and Industry), which is expected to increase significantly along with the policy reform measures and increased Government investment (3%-4%) as a percentage of GDP towards healthcare, by 2015
  • The Minister of Commerce estimates that US$ 6.31 billion will be invested in the domestic pharmaceutical sector
  • Due to low cost of R&D, the Indian pharmaceutical off-shoring industry is expected to be a US$ 2.5 billion opportunity by 2012

Key growth drivers: Local and Global:


• Rapidly growing middle class population of the country with increasing disposable income.
• High quality and cost effective domestic generic drug manufacturers are achieving increasing penetration in local, developed and emerging markets.
• Rising per capita income of the population and inefficiency of the public healthcare system will encourage private healthcare systems of various types and scales to flourish.
• High probability of emergence of a robust healthcare financing/insurance model for all strata of society.
• Fast growing in Medical Tourism.
• Evolving combo-business model of global pharmaceutical companies with both patented and generic drugs is boosting local outsourcing and collaboration opportunities.
Global pharmaceutical industry is going through a rapid process of transformation. The moot question to answer now is how the drug discovery process can meet the unmet needs of the patients and yet remain cost effective.

Cost containment pressure due to various factors is further accelerating this process. CRAMS business, an important outcome of this transformation process, will be the key growth driver for many Indian domestic pharmaceutical players in times to come. 

Key Challenges:

Like all other industries, Pharmaceutical Industry in India has its own sets of Challenges and opportunities under which it operates. Some of the challenges the industry faces are:

  • Unfortunate “Trust Deficit” between the Government and the Industry, especially in pharmaceutical pricing area
  • Regulatory red tape and lack of initiative towards international harmonization
  • Inadequate infrastructure and abysmal public delivery system
  • Lack of adequate number of qualified healthcare professionals
  • Inadequate innovation friendly ecosystem to encourage R&D
  • Myopic Drug Policies have failed to deliver. The needs of over 350 million BPL families who cannot afford to buy any healthcare products and services, have not been effectively addressed, as yet
  • Inability of the government to address the critical issue of ‘80% out of pocket expenditure’ of the common man towards healthcare
  • Inadequate Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiatives in most of the critical areas of healthcare

Job Creation:

Pharmaceutical sector in India has created employment for approximately 3 million people from 23,000 plus units. Accelerated growth in job creation, will not only open up more opportunities to pharmaceutical professionals, but will also fuel growth opportunities in allied business segments like Laboratory, Scientific instruments, Medical Devices and Pharma machinery manufacturing sectors.

Despite all these, it is worth noting that the Indian pharmaceutical industry is confronting with a major challenge in getting employable workforce with the required skill sets. This issue will grow by manifold, as we move on, if adequate vocational training institutes are not put in place on time to generate employable workforce for the industry.

Government Initiatives are inadequate:

The government of India has started working out some policy and fiscal initiatives, though grossly inadequate, for the growth of the pharmaceutical business in India. Some of the measures adopted by the Government are follows:

  • Pharmaceutical units are eligible for weighted tax reduction at 175% for the research and development expenditure obtained.
  • Two new schemes namely, New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative and the Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Research Program have been launched by the Government.
  • The Government is contemplating the creation of SRV or special purpose vehicles with an insurance cover to be used for funding new drug research
  • The Department of Pharmaceuticals is mulling the creation of drug research facilities which can be used by private companies for research work on rent

Encouraging Pharmaceutical Export:

In the recent years, despite economic slowdown being witnessed in the global economy, pharmaceutical exports in India have registered an appreciable growth. Export has emerged as an important growth driver for the domestic pharmaceutical industry with more than 50 % of their total revenue coming from the overseas markets. For the financial year 2008-09 the export of drugs is estimated to be around US $8.25 billion as per the Pharmaceutical Export Council of India (Pharmexil). A survey undertaken by FICCI reported 16% growth in India’s pharmaceutical export during 2009-2010.

Five ‘Strategic Changes’ envisaged:
Five new key strategic changes, in my view, will be as follows:
1. As the country will move towards an integrated and robust healthcare financing system:
• Doctors will no longer remain the sole decision makers for the drugs that they will prescribe to the patients and also the way they will treat the common diseases. Healthcare providers/ medical insurance companies would play a key role in these areas by providing to the doctors well thought out treatment guidelines. • Tough price negotiation with the healthcare providers/ medical insurance companies will be inevitable for a significant proportion of the products that the pharmaceutical companies will sell related to these areas.

• Health Technology Assessment (HTA) or outcome based pricing will play an important role in pricing a healthcare product.
2. An integrated approach towards disease prevention will emerge as equally important as treatment of diseases.
3. A shift from just product marketing to marketing of a bundle of value added comprehensive disease management processes along with the product will be the order of the day
4. More affordable innovative medicines will be available with increasing access to a larger population, as appropriate healthcare financing model is expected to be in place.

5. Over the counter medicines, especially originated from rich herbal resources of India, will curve out a larger share of market, as appropriate regulations will be put in place.


With the all these evolving trends in the healthcare sector of India, the ball game of the successful domestic Indian pharmaceutical industry is expected to undergo a rapid metamorphosis, as they will require to  compete with the global players on equal footing. Those Indian Pharmaceutical companies, who are already global players in their own rights, are already well versed with the nuances of this new game and are expected to offer a tough competition to the global players, especially, in the branded generic space, initially.

However, for some domestic players, the new environment could throw a major challenge and make them vulnerable to the consolidation process, already set in motion within Indian pharmaceutical industry.

The newly formed taskforce will hopefully be able to address all these issues in an integrated way to guide this life-line industry to a much higher growth trajectory to compete effectively not only in the global generic space, but also with the global innovator companies, sooner than later.

So the name of the game is to ‘Foster Innovation’ and protect ‘Public Health Interest’ simultaneously and not one at the cost of the other.

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.