Wish You and Your Dear Ones Best of Health, Happiness, Success and Prosperity in The Brand New Year.
The Global Pharmaceutical Industry (GPI), by and large, used to be considered as ‘recession-proof’ for various valid reasons. However, the waves of ‘global economic meltdown’ since last several years prompted the rating service Moody to downgrade its outlook to ‘Negative’ in 2007.
However, on September 24, 2012 the same rating service upgraded the outlook of the GPI to ‘Stable’ from “Negative,” indicating subsiding impact of the wave of drug patent expiration, come 2013.
Various other sources also vindicate that the GPI has in fact now bottomed-out. Available data from IMS Health estimates that the industry will grow from US$ 956 billion in 2011 to around US$ 1004 billion by end 2012 with a growth of approximately 5 percent driven mainly by:
- Cost optimization
- Higher disease prevalence across the world
- Increasing per capita income
The United States continue to maintain its top slot in the industry followed by the European Union and Japan.
All may not be hunky-dory in the GPI just yet, nevertheless 2013 does point towards some early signs of revival after a very uncertain period, prompting a paradigm shift, especially in the mind-set of the global players. This emerging trend could well form a separate topic of discussion altogether in some other time.
Buoyancy in India:
Back home in India the situation is quite different. The Indian Pharmaceutical Industry (IPI) still remains recession-proof. The market buoyancy continued as ‘PharmaTrac India’ reported a turnover of the domestic pharmaceutical market at around US$ 12.6 billion growing over 15 percent annually.
In this article I shall focus on the domestic pharmaceutical market of India.
The Game Changers of 2012:
Looking back, during the year 2012 the ‘Top Five Game Changers’ for the Indian Pharmaceutical Market (IPM), in my opinion, are as follows:
1. A DIFFERENT ‘Drug Policy’ after 10 years:
The ‘National Pharmaceutical Pricing Policy 2012 (NPPP 2012)’ heralds a paradigm shift in the pharmaceutical price control regime of India for the years ahead with a switch from the ‘Cost Based Pricing CBP)’ methodology to ‘Market Based Pricing (MBP)’ and also in its ‘National List of Essential Medicines 2011 (NLEM 2011)’ based span of price control.
The industry has already articulated, though the new policy will make an immediate and significant adverse financial impact on them, market based pricing is directionally prudent for all in the longer term. They feel that MBP is expected to help improving both affordability and availability of medicines.
Such a policy, some stakeholders believe, along with the Government initiative to make essential medicines available free of cost through public hospitals and health centers will benefit all sections of the society, giving a boost to overall consumption of pharmaceutical products in India. It is also good to note that the new policy promises price control exemptions for patented drugs and products with NDDS developed in India through indigenous R&D.
NPPP 2012, is expected to be a game changer for the industry by many, as it will help bringing more stability in the pharma pricing regulation system of India.
However, there is a flip side to this story.
All stakeholders are not equally happy with the NPPP 2012.
In this context, it is worth noting that in an ongoing Public Interest Litigation before the Supreme Court by ‘All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN)’, the petitioner has already drawn the attention of the Court to their ‘Interim Application’ challenging the NPPP 2012 by stating that the ‘policy finalized by the Government will in effect do away with the very notion of price controls’. In response the apex court reportedly had observed that it will consider the averments of AIDAN in the next hearing of January 15, 2013, once the printed Gazette Notification is put on record before the Court by the Government.
2. First ever grant of Compulsory License in India:
On March 12, 2012, Indian Patent Office (IPO), in its landmark ruling, granted its first ever Compulsory License (CL) for Bayer’s patented kidney and liver cancer drug Nexavar (Sorafenib), to the generic pharma player Natco, broadly citing the following reasons:
- Reasonable requirements of public under Section 84 have not been satisfied.
- The Patented Drug was not available to the public at a reasonably affordable price as per Section 84 (1) (b).
- Patented invention is not worked in the territory of India as per Section 84 (1) (c)
The 62 page order of the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trade Mark (CGPDTM) granted the CL to Natco for the rest of patent life of sorafenib in India at the high end of the UNDP 2001 royalty guidelines at 6 percent.
Though the research based pharmaceutical industry across the world expressed its deep disappointment and anguish over the judgment, many experts and NGOs from different parts of the globe, on the contrary, have reportedly hailed this order as a game changer to improve access to high-priced patented medicines in the country with a firm conviction that the ‘Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)’ and ‘Patients’ Access Issues’ can not tread different paths. They have reportedly opined that CGPDTM has set a right precedence by granting a CL for an exceptionally high-priced sorafenib, which will ensure, in the times to come, that “patent monopolies are kept limited, especially when the patented products are not ‘reasonably affordable’, as stated in the statute”.
Many people, therefore, envisage that if responsible pricing strategy for patented medicines is not followed in India even after the grant of first ever CL by the IPO, one could well expect other generic players applying for CL mainly for the imported high priced patented medicines purely as a business strategy, but citing the reason of improving patients’ access in the country.
3. First ever Guidelines for Biosimilar Drugs in India:
Across the world, biologic drugs have a successful record in treating many life threatening and other complicated ailments. Expiration of product patents of the first major group of originators’ biologic molecules has led to the development of products that are designed to be ‘similar’ to the originators’ products, as it is virtually impossible to replicate any protein substances, unlike the ‘small molecule’ drugs. These are ‘Biosimilar Drugs’, which rely, in part, on prior information obtained from the innovators’ products and demonstration of similarity with the originator’s molecule based on detailed and comprehensive product characterization, for their marketing approval.
India has the potential to become one of the key players in the development and manufacture of biosimilar drugs, not only to serve the needs of the local population, but also for export to large developed markets. However, for this dream to materialize, a science-driven ‘Biosimilar Guidelines’ are absolutely necessary. These guidelines provide a regulatory framework or pathway to ensure that ‘Biosimilar Drugs’ are of good quality and demonstrably similar in efficacy, safety and immunogenicity to the original reference products.
Considerable developments have occurred across the globe, in the scientific and regulatory understanding of biosimilar drugs. Nearly all developed nations and many developing countries have now defined appropriate regulatory framework for the same. However, due to lack of such guidelines in India, until recently, there have been instances of so called ‘biosimilar drugs’ being approved for marketing, reportedly with sub-optimal testing and dossiers, thereby putting into question product quality, comparability and patient safety.
Under this back-drop, the need for such a regulatory framework and comprehensive guidelines is even greater in India, mainly in the light of sub-optimal pharmacovigilance system in the country, besides other reasons.
Keeping these issues in view, the Ministries of Health & Family Welfare and the Science and Technology released India’s first “Guidelines on Similar Biologics: Regulatory Requirements for Marketing Authorization in India” in 2012. These Guidelines have been made operational effective September 15, 2012.
Long awaited new ‘Biosimilar Guidelines’ of India, demonstrating an overall similarity in the philosophy and approach with the those in the U.S and Europe, though a belated move by the Government, but certainly yet another game changer of 2012.
I reckon, this critical step will help ‘Made in India’ biosimilar drugs availing opportunities in the emerging biosimilar markets of the world including Europe and America.
4. Increase in National Health Expenditure Budget from 1% to 2.5% of GDP:
This decision of the Government in 2012 could help paving the way to provide basic healthcare services to all citizens of India through “Universal Health Coverage (UHC)”, which has the vast potential to be another game changer in the healthcare space of India.
It is envisaged that UHC will ensure guaranteed access to essential health services for every citizen of the country, including cashless in-patient and out-patient treatment for primary, secondary and tertiary care. All these services will be available to the patients absolutely free of any cost.
Under UHC all citizens of India will be free to choose between Public Sector facilities and ‘contracted-in’ Private Providers for healthcare services. It is envisaged that people would be free to supplement the free of cost healthcare services offered under UHC by opting to pay ‘out of pocket’ or going for private health insurance schemes.
Thus, UHC, I reckon, will also be able to address simultaneously the critical issue of high ‘out of pocket’ healthcare expenses of the common citizens and at the same time increase consumption of overall healthcare, giving a boost to the growth of the pharma industry together with other healthcare sectors.
Implemented sooner, ignoring motivated stalling tactics by the vested interests, if any, could usher-in the dawn of a new healthcare reform process in India for all.
5. Announcement of Distribution of Essential Drugs free of cost to all, from Government Hospitals and Dispensaries:
In July 2012 the Government of India took a landmark ‘Public Healthcare’ related initiative to provide unbranded generic formulations of all essential drugs, featuring in the ‘National List of Essential Medicines 2011’, free of cost to all patients, from the public hospitals and dispensaries across the country.
This social sector project was expected to roll out, as reported in the media, from October/November 2012 with a cost of around US$ 5 billion during the 12th Five Year Plan period of the country. Considering medicines account for around 70% of the total ‘Out of Pocket’ expenses, this particular initiative is expected to be yet another game changer to benefit, especially the poorer patients of the society.
This new scheme, I reckon, has also the potential to hasten the overall growth of the pharmaceutical industry, as poor patients who could not afford will now have access to essential medicines. On the other hand, rapidly growing middle class population will continue to favor branded generic drugs prescribed by the doctors at the private hospitals and clinics.
Some people are apprehending that generic drug makers will have brighter days as the project starts rolling on. This apprehension is based on the assumption that large branded generic players will be unable to take part in this big ticket drug procurement process of the Government, which seems to be imaginary.
However, in my view, it could well be a win-win situation for all types of players in the industry, where both the generic-generic and branded-generic businesses will continue to grow simultaneously.
That said procedural delays and drug quality issues, while procuring cheaper generics, may pose to be a great challenge for the Government to ensure speedier implementation of this project. Drug regulatory and law enforcing authorities will require to be extremely vigilant to ensure that while sourcing cheaper generic drugs, “Public health and safety” due to quality issues do not get compromised in any way.
A Crystal Gazing into 2013:
While Crystal Gazing into 2013, following seven possible developments come to the top of my mind:
- New Drug Policy may get caught in Public Interest Litigation (PIL).
- UHC related pilot projects may start coming up.
- More stringent regulatory requirements for Clinical Trials, Product Marketing approvals, Pricing of Patented Medicines and Ethical Marketing practices may come into in-force.
- Along with public investments more private initiatives, both global and local, are expected in the healthcare infrastructure space including in e-healthcare.
- Domestics Pharma Companies could challenge increasing number of patents and may also apply for Compulsory Licenses following the set precedence of 2012.
- The Supreme Court judgment on Glivec case could bring more clarity in ‘incremental innovation’ in general and the Section 3(d) in particular.
- More consolidation within the pharmaceutical industry may take place with valuation still remaining high.
The year 2012, especially for the pharmaceutical industry in India, was indeed eventful. The ‘Top Five’ that I have picked-up out of various interesting developments during the year, could in many ways be the ‘Game Changers’ for the industry during the years ahead.
Key measures, both in the public and private space, be it fostering R&D or improving access to healthcare for the general population, fell well short of adequate even in 2012.
My ‘Crystal Gazing into 2013’, if comes true, will make the year even more eventful in India. The new year could signal herald of yet another interesting paradigm. A paradigm that may churn quite different sets of rapidly evolving issues requiring more innovative honed skill-sets for their speedy redressal, as the time keeps moving on.
By: Tapan J Ray
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