The ruckus over Clinical Trials in India compels Government tightening regulations before flooring gas pedal for regional leadership

The subject of Clinical Trials in India has created a huge ruckus, mainly for wide spread alleged malpractices, abuse and misuse of the fragile regulations of the country by the players in this field. The issue is not just of GCP or other clinical trial related standards but more of ethical mind-set and reported rampant exploitation of uninformed patients even in case of trial related injuries or death.

The Bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO) in an article titled, “Clinical trials in India: ethical concerns” reported as follows:

“Drug companies are drawn to India for several reasons, including a technically competent workforce, patient availability, low costs and a friendly drug-control system. While good news for India’s economy, the booming clinical trial industry is raising concerns because of a lack of regulation of private trials and the uneven application of requirements for informed consent and proper ethics review.”

Damning report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee:

Recently the Department Related ‘Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC)’ on Health and Family Welfare presented its 59th Report of 118 pages in total on the functioning of the Indian Drug Regulator – the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) in both the houses of the Parliament on May 08, 2012.

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.

Some critical findings on the Drug Approval Process:

The PSC 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.
  • 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.”

Proper Auditing of Clinical Trials are lacking:

It is sad that that adequate focus on the ‘Clinical Trial Registry’ and even ‘Auditing of Clinical Trials’ is currently lacking in India, which are considered so important not only to maintain the credibility of the studies, but also to demonstrate their scientific integrity and ethical values.

Unfortunately, there seems to be many loose knots in the current clinical trial policy, practices and guidelines in the country, which require to be tightened by the Government to make the system efficient and transparent in the national endeavor of establishing India as one of the most favored destinations for global clinical trials.

Health Ministry recently responded:

Facing this stark reality and pressured by the Parliament, the government has recently demonstrated its intention of tightening the loose knots in the following two critical areas:

  1. Permission to conduct Clinical Trial
  2. Compensation of the Clinical Trial victims

A. “Permission to conduct Clinical Trial in India’ – the draft notification:

In response to the prevailing conundrum, ‘The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’ of the Government of India issued a draft notification on 17th July, 2012 seeking stakeholders’ views on the ‘Permission to conduct Clinical Trial’.

The draft notification says that the licensing authority after being satisfied with the adequacy of the data submitted by the applicant in support of proposed clinical trial, shall issue permission to conduct clinical trial, subject to the following conditions:

  1. Clinical trial shall be conducted in compliance to the approved GCP Guidelines.
  2. Approval of the ‘Ethics Committee’ shall be obtained before initiation of the study.
  3. Ethical aspects of the clinical trial as described in the “Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical Research on Human Participants” published by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), shall be fully complied with.
  4. Clinical trial shall be registered at Clinical Trials Registry of India (CTRI) before enrolling the first patient in the study.
  5. Annual status report on clinical trial viz. ongoing or completed to be communicated to the said Licensing Authority.
  6. Any ‘Suspected Unexpected Serious Adverse Reaction (SUSAR)’ occurring during clinical trial shall be communicated within fourteen calendar days to the Licensing Authority and to the other investigator(s) participating in the study.
  7. In case of study related injury or death, the applicant will provide complete medical care, as well as, compensation for the injury or death and statement to this effect shall be incorporated in the Informed Consent Document. The details of compensation provided shall also be intimated to the licensing authority.
  8. The premises of sponsor/Clinical Research Organization (CRO) and clinical trial sites shall be open to inspection by the officer of Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO), who may be accompanied by an officer of the concerned ‘State Drug Control Authority’ to verify compliance to the requirements of Schedule Y, GCP guidelines and other applicable regulation.
  9. The sponsor/ CRO, investigators shall allow officers of CDSCO who may be accompanied by an officer of the concerned ‘State Drug Control Authority’, to enter with or without prior notice, any premises of sponsor/ CRO, clinical trial site to inspect, search and seize any record, data, document, books, investigational drugs etc. related to clinical trials and provide adequate replies to any queries raised by the inspecting authority in relation to the conduct of clinical trial.

This area of the clinical trial regulations will be finalized after taking into consideration of all the comments received from the stakeholders within the specified period.

B. ‘Compensation of the Clinical Trial victims’:

To address the pressing issues in this area Central Drugs Control Organization (CDSCO) in August 3, 2012, published an interim “GUIDELINES FOR DETERMINING QUANTUM OF FINANCIAL COMPENSATION TO BE PAID IN CASE OF CLINICAL TRIAL RELATED INJURY OR DEATH”

The document articulates as follows:

Presently there is no specific provision under Drugs and Cosmetics Rules for payment of compensation in case of clinical trial related injury or death of the subject. However, the Good Clinical Practice (GCP) Guidelines for Clinical Trials of India under para 2.4.7 provides that the research subject who suffers physical injury as a result of their participation in clinical trials are entitled to financial or other assistance to compensate them equitably for any temporary or permanent impairment or disability subject to confirmation from Ethics Committee. In case of death, their dependents are entitled to material compensation. Guidelines further provide that it is the obligation of the sponsor to pay the compensation.

Such concerns were also raised in the Parliament and other forums regarding payment of compensation in the cases of injury or death, related to clinical trials.

CDSCO’s interim guidelines now prescribe an interesting formula, which will be used to arrive at the financial compensation for all clinical trial related injuries and deaths.

To assess right compensation for clinical trial related injuries or deaths following parameters have been mooted in the document:

  • Age of the deceased
  • Income of the deceased
  • Seriousness and severity of the disease, the subject was suffering at the time of his/her participation into the trial.
  • Percentage of permanent disability.

Prior to the above new interim guidelines of the CDSCO, there was no standardization for the financial compensation either for clinical trial injuries or for that matter even death. In the past, such compensation was expected to be decided by the ‘Ethics Committee’ on case to case basis.

As stated above, the above formula has been indicated to be an interim measure before the final notification comes into force after taking into consideration all stakeholders’ comments and suggestions on this very important subject.

Drawing a comparison with China:

Driven by the stellar economic growth together with its booming pharmaceutical industry have enabled China to position itself as an emerging hub for global clinical trials. Following are some examples of the key growth drivers in the clinical research space of China:

  • A large diverse treatment naive patient population
  • Significant cost arbitrage
  • Recent improvements in the regulatory standards
  • Reverse brain drain of Chinese-born scientists educated in the west
  • Changing disease profile
  • Incentives to conduct clinical research in the country

However, linguistic and cultural barriers that affect patient reporting, enrollment and other medical practices in China could work as major barriers to the growth of Chinese clinical trial sector.

Clinical Trials: A ‘China – India’ comparison

It has already been reported  that India is ahead of China as most favored destination for global clinical trials, although the latter is quite close and breathing on the neck of India and could well even zoom past the former, if appropriate robust regulations and their effective implementation are still not ensured in India.

I. Majority of the Top 10 Pharma Companies conduct higher number of trials in India

Sr. No. Company

Clinical Trials in India

Clinical Trials in China

Astra Zeneca








Eli Lilly


































(Source:, 26 Oct 2007)

II. India leads China and Russia in Cardiology and Diabetes trials

Therapy India (%) China (%) Russia (%)
Cardiology 5.38 4.93 4.48
Diabetes 3.05 2.09 2.65
Neurology 0.90 0.90 3.62
Oncology 1.59 1.01 2.32

With the highest number of diabetic patients in the World and a very large population of patients with cardiovascular disorders, India has the potential to be the destination of choice for clinical trials in these two therapy areas, as we move on.

(Source:, 26 Oct 2007)

III. India has a greater % of phase II and III trials while China has more of Phase I and IV

Clinical Trials in India

Clinical Trials in China

Phase I


Phase I


Phase II


Phase II


Phase III


Phase II


Phase IV


Phase IV


(Source:, 26 Oct 2007)

IV. Of the total Industry sponsored trials only 3.5% are carried out in India and 2.63% in China


Global Trials

India + China







Eli Lilly




























India 3.50%
China 2.63%
Global 93.87%

India and China’s share in the Industry sponsored Global clinical trial market is miniscule


Overall increasing trend of Clinical Trials Initiated in India:

The following table will substantiate the above point:


No. Of Clinical Trials























(Source: U.S. NIH, Pharmexcil Research)

India has the potential to accelerate its pace of growth significantly:

If robust regulatory measures are put in place, addressing serious concerns on the inadequacy of clinical trial regulations in India, together with uniform requirements for informed patients’ consent and appropriate ethics review, global pharmaceutical majors can be easily attracted to India for several reasons like:

  1. Technically competent and English speaking workforce,
  2. Patient availability and huge pool of naive patients
  3. Low costs and an improving drug-control system.

Thus, quite a number of criteria, as stated above, favor India to establish itself as a global hub for clinical research. Besides, availability of a number of government-funded medical and pharmaceutical institutions with state-of-the-art facilities could be very useful for mufti-centered clinical trials in the country.

Moreover, the cost to conduct a trial in India is lower by almost 50% – 75% than in the United States or in the EU. In addition, a good communication link favors quick recruitment of patients and faster regulatory approvals. Thus, clinical trials in India could be concluded faster, offering a sharp cutting edge for effective competition.

Due to all these reasons, India is gradually attracting more collaborative contract clinical research proposals in the country. Even many global Clinical Research Organizations (CRO) have already started establishing their set up in India. This pace can be accelerated significantly with the regulatory measures, as stated above.


Clinical trials are the core of research-based pharmaceutical industry. No new drug can come into the market without clinical trials, which involve both potential benefits and risks to the participants. All clinical trials are conducted with the primary aim of bringing to patients new medicines with a favorable benefit–risk ratio.

Global clinical trials being relatively new to India, no wonder there are several misconceptions on the subject. The companies conducting research need to proactively publicize their commitment to protecting the rights, safety and well-being of trial participants.

All concerned must ensure that the proposals for clinical trials are approved by the government regulatory authorities before commencement and the trials must strictly follow the prescribed norms and procedures. For Phase I-IV human trials, the rights and privileges of the participants must be explained and the trials should commence only after their informed consent. The regulatory authorities, at the same time, should also ensure that any attempt of shortcuts or to bend the system by any means is met with severe consequences.

Although the Ministry of Health has already started initiating some action, as stated above, there is an urgent need for the players in this field to reassure the public, in general, about the high ethical standards that the pharmaceutical companies and Clinical Research Organizations require to comply with and continuously practice, while conducting clinical research.

It is therefore, high time for the Government to tighten the loose knots of the Clinical Trial regulations in the country before flooring the gas pedal to help India surging ahead as a major hub in the clinical trials space of the world, significantly distancing itself from China.

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.

Healthcare Tourism: India needs to step on the gas

Healthcare Tourism or Medical Tourism are the terminologies initially coined by the travel agents and the media when patients travel outside their national boundaries to seek either more specialized and/or cheaper but high quality healthcare available in other countries.

World Health Organization (WHO) defines Healthcare Tourism as an activity that covers:

  • Medical care
  • Sickness & well-being
  • Rehabilitation & recuperation

The reasons:

The main reasons of healthcare tourism are:

  1. High medical costs, especially for those patients who are under-insured or uninsured
  2. Long waiting period for elective surgery
  3. To avail technologically more advanced medical treatment and care

For example, USA though globally recognized as one of the technologically most advanced countries in providing high quality healthcare to the patients, the cost of comprehensive healthcare in the country is often beyond reach of many Americans.

In not too distant past (2000), the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked USA as the country with most expensive healthcare systems in the world. Moreover, it has also been reported that in the US, the fees paid to doctors for medical services are usually much higher for an ‘uninsured’ patient than one who is ‘insured’.

Such a scenario has given rise to situation where many Americans travel out of the country for a lower cost medical care, if not adequately insured.

‘Time Health’ in an article titled ‘A Brief History of Medical Tourism’ stated as follows:

-       In 2006: 150,000 US citizens underwent medical treatment abroad

-       In 2007: the number grew to an estimated 750,000

-       In 2008: it increased to 1.3 million

-       In 2010: the figure further swelled to an estimated 6 million citizens.

The article commented that “Patients are packing suitcases and boarding planes for everything from face lifts to heart bypasses to fertility treatments.”

The key influencers and preferred destinations:

The most common influencer for healthcare tourism globally, as stated earlier, is lack of or inadequate health insurance and the most common emerging destinations for healthcare tourism in the world are Thailand, Singapore, Costa Rica, Panama, Brazil, Mexico, Malaysia and India. This is mainly because of fact that the costs of availing high quality healthcare services in these countries are much cheaper- on an average around 80%. For example, a cardiac surgery, which will cost more than US$ 50,000 in the US, can be availed for US$ 20,000 in Singapore, US$ 12,000 in Thailand and between US$ 3,000 and US$ 10,000 in India.

Other factors influencing Healthcare Tourism, particularly in India, besides significant cost advantages, are:

  1. High quality treatment and hospital stay with world class medical technological support
  2. Rigid compliance with international treatment standards
  3. No language barrier with the western world
  4. Government taking active steps and interest in the medical tourism sector

In all these four areas significant advantages that India offers will need to be adequately leveraged in a sustainable manner by the country.

Most popular treatment areas:

The most popular treatment areas are as follows:

  1. Alternative medicines
  2. IVF treatment
  3. Bone-marrow transplant
  4. Cardiac bypass
  5. Eye surgery
  6. Dental care
  7. Cosmetic surgery
  8. Other areas of advanced medicine

Evolving scenario:

Since last several years healthcare tourism is fast evolving as one of the key growth drivers of the global healthcare sector as a whole.

Dr. Fred Hansen in his article titled, ‘A Revolution in Healthcare’, highlighted that increasing number of high-quality healthcare facilities in the developing coun­tries are attracting medical tourists from the developed countries like the US and the European Union (EU).

Apprehension in the US about growing Healthcare Tourism of India:

India Knowledge@Wharton in its June 2, 2011 issue reported as under:

  • In the past, US President Barack Obama had singled out India for what he sees as the country usurping American jobs and business.
  • In May 2009, he removed some tax incentives for US companies who allegedly preferred to outsource rather than create domestic jobs. “Buffalo before Bangalore” was his rallying call at the time.
  • In April 2011, he told a town hall gathering in Virginia that Americans shouldn’t have to go to India or Mexico for “cheap” health care. “I would like you to get it right here in the U.S.,” he said.
  • In January 2012, President Obama reiterated the same intent in the run up to the forthcoming US presidential election for his second term.

The Global Market:

In 2006 the global market for healthcare tourism was around US$ 60 billion. According to McKinsey & Company, this market is expected to expand to over US$110 billion by 2012.

India – a contender for supremacy:

Healthcare tourism in India, despite being smaller compared to the western world, is surging ahead both at the national and the regional levels with enormous potential for future growth, if explored appropriately with a carefully charted strategic game plan in its evolution process.

Currently India is emerging as one of the preferred destinations for global health tourists. The country received 150,000 medical tourists in 2004, which grew by 33% to 200,000 in 2008, mainly from the USA, UK and the Gulf countries, primarily due to low-priced and high quality healthcare in wide ranging disease areas. More and more people from these countries are finding the prospect of high quality and value added medical care in India financially attractive.  As per estimates, India will receive over 500,000 medical tourists per year come 2015.

While visiting India for healthcare, patients not only get treated by the best medical professionals with western medical training, but also are able to stay in deluxe accommodations fully equipped with the latest television set, refrigerator and in some cases even a personal computer, without facing any language barrier and that too by paying just around 1/10th of the price charged in the developed nations.

Moreover, according to John Lancaster of ‘The Washington Post’ (October 21, 2004) Indian private hospitals have a better mortality rate for heart surgery than American hospitals.

With over 8,500 beds ‘Apollo Hospitals’ chain runs 53 different hospitals across the country, followed by “Max Healthcare” that runs 8 medical centers in the National Capital Region (NCR) in India.

Indian Market:

Economic Times, in its January 6, 2009 edition reported, “Indian medical tourism to touch Rs 9,500 Crore (around US $ 2.1 billion) by 2015”.  Another report titled “Booming Medical Tourism in India”, published in December 2010 estimated that the medical tourism industry will generate revenues of around US$ 3 billion by 2013, though with a market share of just around 3% of the of global healthcare tourism industry.  Thus, in healthcare tourism, India still remains a smaller player with enormous growth potential.

New job creation:

Both Public and private sector studies estimate that healthcare tourism in India could attract around US$ 3 billion to the country by 2013 with around 40 million direct and indirect job opportunities.

Cost advantage in India:

Cost Comparison: India vs UK:

Nature of Treatment

Treatment Approximate Cost in India ($) *

Cost in other Major Healthcare Destination ($) *

Approximate Waiting Periods in USA / UK    (in months)

Open heart Surgery


> 18,000

9 – 11

Cranio-facial Surgery and skull base


> 13,000

6 – 8

Neuro-surgery with Hypothermia


> 21,000

12 – 14

Complex spine surgery with implants


> 13,000

9 – 11

Simple Spine surgery


> 6,500

9 – 11

Simple Brain Tumor -Biopsy -Surgery

1,000 4,300

> 4,300 > 10,000

6 – 8

Parkinson -Lesion -DBS

2,100 17,000

> 6,500 > 26,000

9 – 11

Hip Replacement


> 13,000

9 – 11

* These costs are an average and may not be the actual cost to be incurred.

(Source: Health Line)

The key components:

The following four basic components constitute the healthcare tourism industry: • Healthcare Providers: Hospitals, mainly corporate hospitals and doctors • Payers: Medical/ Health insurance companies • Pharmaceutical Companies: for high quality affordable medicines • IT Companies: operating in the healthcare space

Growth drivers and barriers:

Following are the key growth drivers:

  1. Government support through policies and initiatives
  2. High quality, yet low cost care
  3. Much less or no waiting time
  4. World class private healthcare infrastructure
  5. Rich source of natural and traditional medicines. Ministry of Tourism is  promoting the traditional systems of medicines, like,  Ayurveda, Siddha, and Yoga to project India as a the destination of choice for spiritual wellness and healing

In future, the world class and low cost private sector healthcare services are expected to drive the growth of the medical tourism in India.

However, any shortages in the talent pool and inadequacy in other basic infrastructural support like roads, airports and power could pose to be barriers to growth of this sector, if not addressed immediately.

Government Assistance:

The government of India is now supporting the hospitals to get the Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation.

In 2009 the government announced a revised guidelines for ‘Marketing Development Assistance (MDA)’ scheme for approved Medical Tourism service providers like, representatives of hospitals accredited by Joint Commission for International Accredited Hospitals (JCI) and National Accreditation Board of Hospitals (NABH) and Medical Tourism facilitators (Travel Agents/Tour Operators approved by Ministry of Tourism, Government of India and engaged in Medical Tourism (MTSP) and to the approved Wellness Centers i.e. representatives of the Wellness Centers accredited by the State Governments.

All these measures are expected to accelerate the growth of healthcare Tourism industry in India.

List of JCI Accredited Hospitals in India:

Following are the JCI Accredited Hospitals in India till 2007:

Name and Place Accredited on
1. Indraprasta Apollo Hospital, New Delhi June 18, 2005
2. Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai August 25, 2005
3. Apollo Hospitals, Chennai January 29, 2006Disease- or Condition-Specific Care (DCSC)Certification for Acute Stroke: 29 April 2006
4. Shroff Eye Hospital, Mumbai February 18, 2006
5. Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad April 28, 2006
6. Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai October 20, 2006
7. Satguru Pratap Singh Apollo Hospital, Punjab February 3, 2007
8. Fortis Hospital, Mohali June 15, 2007

Source: Joint Commission International, 2007

The challenges:

Following are the key challenges that India will need to address to emerge as a healthcare tourism hub of the world:

  • Improving the infrastructure
  • Adequate training of the staff
  • Enhancement of the image of India as a corruption-free country
  • Continuous improvement of overall service to the patients


While encountering the global economic meltdown many corporate business houses, even in the developed nations of the world, are under a serious cost containment pressure, which includes medical expenses for their employees. Such cost pressure has already started prompting many companies to send their employees to low cost destinations for treatment, without compromising on the quality of their healthcare needs. This trend could offer an additional growth opportunity in the healthcare tourism sector in India.

According to the ‘Medical Tourism Climate Survey 2010’ report, the leading medical tourism destinations are currently India, Thailand, Hungary and Malaysia and the leading source of patients being again the USA, UK and Russian Federation.

The survey rates Thailand, India and Singapore as the best in terms of quality of overall patients’ care. Insurance and liability issues for the patients from some major markets of the world could pose to be a challenge for speedy growth of this industry.

Countries like, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, located in quite closer proximity to India, will continue to offer a tough competition in the healthcare tourism space of the country.

In an increasingly heated-up fast evolving competitive scenario, the name of the game for India will be to ‘step on the gas’, sooner and effectively.

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.