Ease of Doing Pharma Business in India: A Kaleidoscopic View 

Ensuring ease of doing any ethical business activity in India, is a new focus area of the Government and is very rightly so. Creating ease of doing ethical pharma business too, falls under this overall national objective.

In this article, restricting myself to the drug sector, I shall deliberate on various aspects, which are now being considered by the pharma industry, related to the ‘ease of doing pharma business in India’. My discussion would cover all subsets of pharma players, irrespective of whether they fall under Multinational (MNC) or purely homegrown Indian companies, with different scales of operations – large, medium, small, or micro. 

To help the Government facilitating the ‘‘ease of doing pharma business in India’, it is just not enough to make the business models for all subsets of the Indian pharma sector looking ethical, conforming to all relevant laws, policies, rules and norms. Each pharma player need also to maintain an ongoing strict internal vigil, religiously, to ensure that the requirements of high quality clinical development, manufacturing and selling practices for effective, safe and rational medicines, are properly understood and strictly followed by all the employees within the organization.

A Kaleidoscopic View:

The above situation is something that ought to happen, as the Government keeps striving to improve the ‘ease of doing pharma business’ in India. However, while looking through a Kaleidoscope, as it were, the colors of industry expectations in this area keep changing rapidly, as the new contentious issues keep emerging. Consequently, the ground reality of assessing the same, by a large section of the pharma players in India, seems to veer only around different types of just self-serving demands, expecting those to act as a powerful tailwind pushing their business interests rapidly forward.

Such expectations keep surfacing, rather frequently, from all the subsets of the pharma industry, be they MNCs and their trade associations or the Companies of purely Indian origin and their trade bodies. The accusation to the Government pertaining to all these issues, is a common one: ‘Where is the ease of doing pharma business in India?’

Citing even some recent incidents, they are voicing with equal gusto, that the root causes of all these problems lie miles outside the pharma industry. The causative factor, they indicate, is rooted at the very doorsteps of the Government, as its ministries initiate tough action to root out corruption in the pharma industry as concurrent measures, disturbing their business comfort zones, and upsetting the apple carts. 

The Government has its task cut out:

I hasten to add that I have no intention to paint it as a confrontation between the Government and the pharma industry, in any way. The Government is also facing the brunt from the various stakeholders, relentlessly, for its utter negligence of public health care, and public expenditure over it.

The impact of this Government indifference, though also comes on the patients, the industry does not seem to have much to crib over it as a direct impediment to the ‘ease of doing pharma business’ in India.

Probably as a diversionary tactic, the industry keeps using this critical Government inaction in the hope of diverting the public, or media attention from its own alleged business malpractices, even at a time when these are being covered both by the national and international media, regularly. Nevertheless, the industry credibility on these issues, seems to have started waning fast, as the genie is out of the bottle.

A common punching bag of all industry dissatisfaction on the Government:

It is worth noting that despite some key differences between the MNC and Indian pharma companies, which I shall discuss later, the common punching bag of the industry dissatisfaction on various Government decisions, always has been the lack of ‘ease of doing pharma business’ in the country.

This discontentment may be well justified. I have no qualms about it. However, when this dissatisfaction gets tagged with some recent Government action, taken to protect public health interests and does not have much to do with the ‘ease of doing ethical pharma business’, many eyebrows are obviously raised.

Against some of these critical patient-centric actions, the industry continues to express its annoyance in unison, while for some other Government decisions, it speaks in different voices – some are happy ones, and the others are not so. However, the common thread of expression of all such dissatisfactions is always linked with the lack of ‘ease of doing business’ in India.

A. Where the pharma Industry in India speaks in unison: 

I shall now give two major examples of the key Government decisions, that have irked the entire pharma industry immensely, and makes it voicing that those Government actions grossly violate the fundamental requirements of its smooth running of business. Is that fair? Let me analyze that below with these two examples:

1. Drug price control:

The industry, by and large, opines that individual drug company should be allowed to decide the way it would price any drug, as the market forces, especially for generic drugs, would determine its price.

Indian Parliament, the Supreme Court of India, the Government in power at different times, most of the independent experts and the NGOs, on the contrary, consider drug price control is necessary in India, especially for essential drugs. It makes high quality essential medicines affordable and accessible to the general population.

National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) has also announced and explained that the competition does not work on controlling prices for pharma products, where the consumers are not the decision makers. The key prescribing decision makers for the patients are the doctors, who are mostly and unethically influenced by the drug companies having vested interest in making such decisions. This unholy nexus has been widely alleged globally, and also established through umpteen number of studies of high credibility.

Nevertheless, the doctors, from across the globe, including in India, have long disputed that any payments, if and when they receive from pharmaceutical companies, have no relationship to how they prescribe drugs.

A March 17, 2016 study of ProPublica has conclusively established that: “The more money doctors receive from drug and medical device companies, the more brand-name drugs they tend to prescribe. Even a meal can make a difference.” This study may be in the context of the Unites States, but India in this in this regard is no exception, as captured even in the parliamentary Committee reports.

Thus, conceding to high voltage pharma advocacy, made on the pretext of ‘encouraging innovation’ and ‘ease of doing business in India’, if any Government contemplates the abolition of drug price control in India is, it would make not just essential drugs inaccessible to a large section of society, but encourage blatant corrupt practices. This caution has come, besides many others, also from a Parliamentary Committee report, unambiguously. Incidentally, the present Government too strongly speaks against corruption, in any form.

Thus, I reckon, if the industry believes that the price control of essential drugs, which are for public health interest, goes against ease of doing pharma business in India, so be it.

2. Manufacturing and selling of irrational FDCs:

A Fixed Dose Combination (FDC) drug may appear irrational to drug regulators and well-qualified experts, after necessary scientific scrutiny, for various reasons. This may happen, primarily because of the following reasons:

  • When the medical rationale of the FDC along with the ingredient details, submitted to the regulatory authority for marketing approval, are considered scientifically inappropriate.
  • When the evolving medical science establishes the irrationality of the FDC after a period of time.
  • When the analysis of ‘Adverse Drug Event’ reports from the ongoing Pharmacovigilance studies signals a red alert.
  • Widespread uncontrolled misuse or abuse of FDCs, where the consumers’ health risks far outweigh the drug benefits, as provided in the drugs Act, for public health interest.
  • Some regulatory loopholes were misused by the drug manufacturers in the past to get the irrational FDCs approved by the State Drug Authorities, violating the new FDC regulatory approval Policy.

Any irrational FDC so identified by the drug regulators and experts, by putting a system of scrutiny in place, must be banned forthwith, in public health interest. There should not be any scope of negotiation with drug manufacturer to make the bans effective.

Incidentally, realizing the gravity of public health risks posed by irrational FDCs, even the NPPA has reportedly decided to review afresh all new applications for price fixations of FDC and examine their safety and efficacy profile.

Moving towards this direction, the NPPA Chairman, has reportedly sent back more than 200 applications for price fixation of FDCs, instructing the concerned manufacturing and marketing companies to apply again with a declaration that their formulations are not “irrational.” It was also reported that the price regulator has also brought under the lens third-party drug makers and pharma companies that outsource to them, to check illegal sales of irrational FDCs and spurious drugs.

Two key questions being raised now:

Despite all these, the industry keeps repeating, especially, the following two questions, which are worth looking at, one by one: 

1.  Why is the ban now?

I discussed the issue of FDC ban in my previous article in this Blog on March 21, 2016 titled, “The Recent Ban On Irrational FDCs: History Repeats Itself”.

In the above article, I also argued that large section of the industry and its associations are protesting against the Government ban of 344 irrational FDCs, and questioning vigorously, even outside the Delhi High Court – ‘why is the ban now?’

The point ‘why now’ is absolutely irrelevant, as not taking any action ever, against a wrong doing ignored over a long period time for whatever reasons, does not confer any regulatory legitimacy to an irrational FDC formulation to be considered as a rational one for all time to come, and thereby, exposing patients to serious health risks, knowingly.

2.  Why is this ban so sudden, and in some cases after decades?

Sudden banning of drugs, which are in the market for a long time, is not a recent Indian phenomenon in India. In 2011, according to a report, in the world’s largest pharma market – the United States, the FDA banned 500 prescription drugs that had been on the market and working for decades. USFDA ban also happened suddenly, and that includes cough syrups too.  Thus, it is intriguing, why is this fuss created by the Industry in India now? 

In the midst of it, one odd, knee-jerk, apparently ‘spoon-fed’ and ill-informed editorial in some Indian business daily, raises more questions about its real intent, rather than help finding answers to the poorly sketched problems.

I would hope, the Government would stay firm and be able to convince the Delhi High Court today, i.e. on March 28, 2016, with its robust data-based arguments, accordingly.

Be that as it may, in my perspective, if the industry still believes that bans of irrational FDCs to protect public health interest, as decided by the independent experts after long and structured deliberations, would go against ‘ease of doing pharma business’ in India, so be it. 

B. Where the pharma industry in India speaks in different voices:

As stated above, there are several other key areas, where the MNC and Indian Pharma players have sharp differences in their perspectives. Despite these differences, the aggrieved section does not even blink a bit to attribute those Government actions to the lack of ‘ease of doing pharma business’ in the country.

 In this area, I shall give just the following three examples: 

1. The Patents Act:

MNCs say that section 3 (d) of the Indian Patents Act 2005, which is aimed at curbing patent ever-greening or frivolous inventions, is against the ease of doing business in India. However, the Indian Pharma players, do not think so, at all. Similar disagreement also exists in other critical areas too, such as, ‘Data Exclusivity (DE)’ and ‘Compulsory Licensing (CL)’.

Thus, in my opinion, if some ‘public health interest’ related provisions of the robust Indian Intellectual Property (IP) Act, such as, section 3 (d), DE and CL, are considered as going against the ‘ease of doing pharma business in India’ by the MNCs, so be it.

2. Mandatory Uniform Code of Pharma Marketing Practices (UCPMP):

Need to have a mandatory UCPMP, though, is reportedly supported by the MNCs, Indian pharma players do not seem to be quite in sync with this idea. I am not sure, whether the delay in the announcement of mandatory UCPMP, almost in every 3 months, has any coincidence with it or not. However, the reality is, no one still knows clearly, when would it definitely come, if at all.

Media reports on pharma MNC support to mandatory UCPMP, and repeated reiteration that its members in India rigidly follow the IFPMA Code of Marketing Practices, though commendable, seem to grossly lack in credibility.

Interestingly, despite the existence of this code and high-decibel vouch for its rigid conformance, maximum number of MNCs have been fined billions of dollars, by the Government in various countries, for alleged gross marketing and other business malpractices. It has been happening over a long period of time, and is being reported by the international media, frequently.

What is really happening, especially, on the so called total support of ethical marketing practices by the MNCs? Are they trying to create just good optics by craftily framing and supporting such showpiece codes, and blatantly defying these to achieve self-serving goals? The voice gets shriller, even when they are being levied hefty fines, after getting caught red handed, as reported by the global media? I guess, the future would ultimately unfold the reality. But would it, at all?

The Indian Scenario: 

Even in India, such alleged marketing malpractices involving even a top pharma MNC have often been reported by the media. Just to illustrate, “Prescribe a drug maker’s medicine and get a free vacation”, reported a news article. There are several other similar reports too. Hence, the credibility of pharma MNC statements regarding strict conformance to ethical marketing codes, ably formulated by the well-known pharma trade associations, such as, IFPMA, appears to be very low, if exists at all.

The well-reputed medical Journal BMJ in one of its articles titled, “Corruption ruins the doctor-patient relationship in India”, published on May 8, 2014, expressed serious concern on this issue.

It concluded that corruption, kickbacks and the nexus between doctors and pharmaceutical firms are rampant India. This eventually prompted the BMJ, in June 2014, to launch a campaign reportedly called ‘Corruption in Medicine’.

On this issue, way back in May 08, 2012, even the Indian Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare in its 58th Report, placed before the Parliament on May 08, 2012, expressed its serious concern.

Indian lawmakers, recommended in the report that the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) should take decisive action, without further delay, in making the UCPMP mandatory, so that effective checks could be ensured on ‘huge promotional costs’ and the resultant add-on impact on medicine prices. Unfortunately, despite a change in the Government in 2014, UCPMP has still not been mandatory.

It is anybody’s guess, despite all these reports, what type of external pressure, if at all, the DoP is still facing to put in place a robust mandatory UCPMP with strong deterrent measures.

Under this backdrop, in my view, if mandatory UCPMP having enough teeth, to curb ongoing blatant marketing malpractices to protect patients’ health interest in India, is considered by any as going against the ‘ease of doing pharma business in India’, so be it. 

3. Drug manufacturing quality:

Enough discussions have already been made on import ban of USFDA from over 45 drug manufacturing facilities of Indian Companies, of all sizes and scale of operations, on the ground of drug quality standards. USFDA considered drugs manufactured in those banned facilities are unsafe for the consumption of American patients. Some other foreign drug regulators, from the developed countries, have also taken similar action.

Taking advantage of this development, it was reported that attempts are indirectly being made to establish that MNC marketed generic drugs are superior to similar ones, manufactured even by the large Indian drug producers.

The fact, apparently, is quite different. MNCs operating in India has not come under the USFDA scanner in this regard as much, probably not because of their far superior drug manufacturing quality standards in India, as compared to even the best of their Indian counterparts. I reckon, it is mainly because, very few MNC drug manufacturing facilities in India export India manufactured drugs for consumption in the United States. 

It may not, therefore, make any real sense to conclude that MNC marketed generic drugs in India, either manufactured my themselves or under loan & license or under a third party, are generally better in quality than the similar ones manufactured even by the large Indian manufacturers. 

In any case, I feel that there is a huge scope for Indian drug regulators to ensure uniformly high drug quality standards. This is necessary for Indian patients’ health and safety. There also should be stringent regular quality audits in all drug manufacturing facilities in India, where non-conformance with prescribed standards would attract serious punitive measures. The Union Ministry of Health, together with the State Governments would require increasing the number of auditors accordingly.

However, the reality is, many Indian drug manufacturers have expressed that maintaining stricter drug manufacturing standards (cGMP) would involve huge expenditure, which they will not be able to afford. Consequently, this would go against the ‘ease of doing pharma business’ in India.

Again, in my view, if the stringent regulatory requirements for maintaining high drug manufacturing standards in India to protect public health interest, is considered as going against the ‘ease of doing pharma business’ in India, so be it.


Improving ‘ease of doing pharma business’ in India is an absolute necessity, just as all other businesses. Pharma sector deserves it very badly too, as it has been experiencing excruciating delay in multiple regulatory clearances. Single window clearances of all applications, with a much greater sense of urgency, without bureaucratic red tapes and avoiding other unnecessary delays, is certainly the way forward for India. It would require urgent policy reforms, maintaining a right balance between, public, consumers and business interests.

Pharma sector is not all villain, either, by any yardstick. It is instrumental in saving and improving the quality of lives of so many people across the globe, since a very long time, with its both innovative and generic medicines. All must acknowledge it, and the Government does it too, openly, several times. 

That said, the space of focus of the pharma industry appears to be getting increasingly narrowed down to more of its self-serving acts, and in their hard selling, through hugely expensive advocacy campaigns, even at the huge cost of attracting frequent self-defeating scathing criticisms, across the world.

At the same time, the Governments in different times hugely disappointed its citizens, in charting a clear road map for quality and affordable health care for all in India, along with appropriate budgetary allocations and policy reforms, and thereafter, in its implantation with military precision.

However, that doesn’t mean, in any way, while facilitating ‘ease of doing pharma business’ in India, the Government would turn a blind eye on the rapidly breeding corruption in the pharma business practices, and give in to unjustified industry muscle-flexing, sacrificing the health interest of its citizens in the country.

While looking through this Kaleidoscope, it appears to me, if the pharma sector considers the appropriate Government actions to protect public health interest, against the unacceptable industry practices, would also go against the ‘ease of doing pharma business’ in India… Well, so be it.

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.


A Kaleidoscope of Drug Price Control Spanning Across the World and Its Relevance to India

How much to charge for a drug?

While there is no single or only right way to arrive at the price of a medicine, how much the pharmaceutical manufacturers will charge for a drug still remains an important, yet complex and difficult task, both locally and globally.

A paper titled, “Pharmaceutical Price Controls in OECD Countries”, published by the US Department of Commerce, after examining the drug price regulatory systems of 11 OECD countries concluded that all of them enforce some form of price controls to limit spending on pharmaceuticals.

The report also indicated that the reimbursement prices in these countries are often treated as the de facto market price. Moreover, some OECD governments regularly cut prices of even those drugs, which are already in the market.

An evolving rational system of drug pricing:

The values of health outcomes and pharmacoeconomic analysis are gaining increasing importance for drug price negotiations/control by the healthcare regulators even in various developed markets of the world.

In countries like, Australia and  within Europe in general, health outcomes data analysis is almost mandatory to establish effectiveness of a new drug over the existing ones.

Even in the US, where the reimbursement price is usually negotiated with non-government payors, many health insurers have now started recognizing the relevance of such data.

Such price negotiations at times take a long while and may also require other concessions by manufacturers, for example:

  • In the UK, a specified level of profitability may constrain the manufacturers.
  • Spain would require a commitment of a sales target from the manufacturers, who are made responsible to compensate for any excess sales by paying directly to the government either the incremental profit or by reducing the product price proportionately.

Pharmacoeconomic Based or Value-Based Pricing (PBP/VBP):

Pharmacoeconomics, as we know, is a scientific model of setting price of a medicine commensurate to the economic value that the drug/therapy would offer.  Pharmacoeconomic principles, therefore, intend to maximize the value obtained from expenditures towards medicines through a structured evaluation of products costs and disease outcomes.

PBP/VBP is widely considered to offer the ‘best value for money’ spent to buy a medicine, as it is ‘the costs and consequences of one treatment compared with the costs and consequences of alternative ones’.

A contrarian view:

Let me hasten to add that some shortcomings in PBP/VBP system have already been highlighted by some experts and are being debated threadbare. The key question that is being mooted now is, how to quantify the value of a saved life or relief of intense agony of patients while arriving at a price of a drug based on PBP/VBP model.

PBP/VBP could help ‘freeing-up’ resources to go to front-line healthcare: 

As per the Department of Health, UK, ‘Value-Based Pricing (VBP)’ ‘will help creating a world-class NHS that saves thousands more lives every year by freeing up resources to go to the front line, giving professionals power and patients choice, and maintaining the principle that healthcare should be delivered to patients on the basis of need, not their ability to pay’.

Pharmaceutical Price Control has assumed global importance:

Pricing of pharmaceutical products has now become one of the most complex and a very sensitive area of the business, like never before. This is mainly because of the concerns on the impact of medicine prices to access of medicines, especially, in the developing markets, like India and the cost containment pressure of the governments as well as the healthcare providers in the developed markets of the world.

Evolving Pharmaceutical pricing models:

Pharmaceutical pricing mechanism has undergone significant changes across the world. The old concept of pharmaceutical price being treated as almost given and usually determined only by the market forces with very less regulatory scrutiny is gradually but surely giving away to a new regime.

Currently in many cases, the prices of even patented medicines differ significantly from country to country across the globe, reflecting mainly the differences in their healthcare systems and delivery, along with income status and economic conditions.

Global pharmaceutical majors, like GSK and Merck (MSD) have already started following the differential pricing model, based primarily on the size of GDP and income status of the people of the respective countries. This strategy includes India, as well.

Reference pricing model is yet another such example, where the pricing framework of a pharmaceutical product will be established against the price of a reference drug in the reference countries.

The reference drug may be of different types, for example:

  1. Another drug in the same therapeutic category
  2. A drug having the same clinical indications available in the country of interest e.g, Canada fixes the drug prices with reference to prices charged for the same drug in the US and some European Union countries.

A Kaleidoscope of Drug Price Control across the world:

In most of the countries around the world drug price control in some form or the other has been put in place by the respective governments. Following are just a few examples:

Price Control in Germany:

In not so distant past pharma companies operating in Germany could fix any price for both patented and generic medicines. As a result, the drug prices in Germany have since long been among the highest in Europe.

‘The Act on the Reform of the Market for Medicinal Products (AMNOG)’ that came into effect in January 2011 to regulate the price of new prescription drugs in Germany, is expected to assist in the overall effort to curb in exploding costs for the country’s public health insurance system.

Under the new law, as reported by ‘InPharm’ dated November 12, 2010, pharmaceutical manufacturers in Germany, after the launch of a new drug, will have a one-year window to negotiate prices with health insurers. In case there happens to be no positive outcome of such negotiations, German Health Ministry would set a maximum price for the drug, which would then undergo a cost/benefit analysis by Germany’s ‘Health Technology Assessment (HTA)’ body IQWiG. Thereafter, the price will be fixed for the said new drug accordingly.

Price Control in Spain:

In Spain the local law has made HTA mandatory to ascertain the efficacy, cost, efficiency, effectiveness, safety, and therapeutic utility of different alternatives for the treatment of a disease condition.

After marketing approval of a new drug, either by the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) or the Spanish Medicine Agency (AEMPS),  the Ministry of Health (MSC) invites the manufacturer to provide all relevant information to allow the ‘Inter-Ministerial Pricing Commission (CIPM)’, chaired by the MSC, to decide the right price of the product. After negotiation, if the outcome is positive for inclusion of the product in the national reimbursement list, the decision is implemented across the country.

Effective June 2010, price cuts have been imposed by Spain on reimbursed patented drugs with rebates of 7.5% of sales, under the National Health System (NHS).

Effective July 2010, an average 25% cut has also been implemented for generic medicines in the country.

New Price Control mechanism in the UK:

Quite like US, UK has been one of those western countries, which allows pharmaceutical manufacturers to set their own prices. However, after the expiry of the current ‘Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS)’ in 2013, despite many concerns, as decided by the ‘National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)’,  ‘Value-based pricing (VBP)’ is expected to be followed for pharmaceutical product pricing in the UK.  VBP will be worked out ‘by the maximum affordable cost per ‘Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALY)’ generated by the use of new medicines.’

To arrive at VBP for a new product, pharmaceutical manufacturers will require furnishing enough evidence, based on clinical trial, to establish superiority of a new drug over the ones already available in the market.

However, VBP will be followed only for the new prescription drugs and not for the existing ones or generic medicines, with the main regulatory focus being on profit rather than on price control of drugs.

Price Control in France:

As per ISPOR, in France the price control of pharmaceutical products is implemented as follows:

“All registered pharmaceuticals are subjected to Evaluation of Therapeutic Benefit (Amelioration du Service Medical Rendu, or ASMR) by ‘Commission de Transparence (Transparency Commission)’, which is expressed as a classification between 1 & 6, as follows:

  1. Innovative product of significant therapeutic benefit
  2. Product of therapeutic benefit, in terms of efficacy and/or reduction in side effect profile
  3. Already existing product, where equivalent pharmaceuticals exist; moderate improvement in terms of efficacy and/or reduction in side effect profile
  4. Minor improvement in terms of efficacy and/or utility
  5. No improvement but still granted recommendations to be listed
  6. Negative opinion regarding inclusion on the reimbursement list

The ASMR evaluation is based on the expert judgment of the Transparency Commission of the Pharmaceutical Agency ‘(Agence du Medicament)’. Subsequently, a reimbursement price negotiated with ‘Comité Economique du Médicament (CEM)’. The price negotiated with CEM becomes the price at which the drug is sold throughout the country, even for private prescriptions.”

As a part of the 2011 Social Security Budget Bill, France has decided to significantly reduce its healthcare cost by enforcing price cuts including parallel import of drugs.

Price Control in Australia:

Just as many OECD countries, Australia also use drug price control mechanisms to contain its healthcare expenditure. The Australian government manages their healthcare expenditure through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), where the pharma companies are required to prove the cost-effectiveness of their drugs for subsequent pricing negotiations with the government.

Price Control in China:

In China, since 2007, ”The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC)’ controls drug prices in the country. There was, however, a significant re-engineering of the system in  November 2010, when NDRC drastically reduced the prices of essential drugs manufactured locally in partnership with global pharma majors like, Novartis, Pfizer and Roche. In March 2011 prices were slashed for over 1,000 drugs in China.

Patented and imported products enjoyed relatively free-market pricing in China, for some time. However, recently to increase the coverage of ‘Universal Healthcare’, the Chinese pricing authorities have initiated price control measures for many pharmaceutical products in the country.

Pricing mechanism in Singapore:

Singapore also follows a free-market pricing approach for pharmaceutical products, which is, reportedly, to recognize the value and importance of patented products in the country. Though Singapore Government provides ‘Universal Healthcare’ to its residents, individuals are required to share the costs of healthcare services they consume.

This has made the cost of healthcare in Singapore rather expensive, especially for the retired persons and low-income citizens of the country. As a consequence of which, many individuals who would require regular treatment with medicines, very often go to nearby Malaysia to buy those medicines at much lesser prices, probably causing a revenue loss to the Singapore market.

Price control in Japan:

In Japan, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW) follows a system of pricing where the new drugs prices are determined based on those comparable drugs, which are already available in the country. However, in those cases where MHLW cannot find any comparable drug for assessment ‘cost based pricing’ system is followed. The new drugs which are assessed as innovative by the MHLW may attract a premium based on pre-determined criteria.

Price Control in Brazil:

In Brazil, the government controls the drug prices through designated agencies. The ‘Agência Nacional de Vigilância Sanitária (ANVISA)’ is responsible for the marketing approval of new drugs and the ‘Câmara de Regulação do Mercado de Medicamentos (CMED)’ is responsible not only for determining the prices of new drugs, but also for any subsequent price changes for all drugs in the market.

Price Control in Russia:

Currently pricing regulations are applicable to only ‘essential drugs’ in Russia. However, ‘thepharmaletter’ in its January 25, 2011 edition reported that ‘Federal Commission on Safety of Medical Business (FCSMB)’ of Russia has proposed a quick introduction of the government control over prices of all drugs in the domestic market costing more than 100 Roubles (US$3.34).

FCSMB believes that the current system of drug pricing in Russia offers a distinct advantage to the global pharmaceutical players. Hence, the agency feels, the state regulation on all drug prices is necessary in the country.

A damning article from “Los Angeles Times”:

Though United States of America (USA) still remains a free-market even for pharmaceutical product pricing, increasing number of voices are now being heard in favor of pharmaceutical price control even in that country.

Los Angeles Times’ in its October 10, 2009 edition commented, “Healthcare reform without drug price controls? That’s sick”.

While, acknowledging high cost of pharmaceutical research, the article continued to state, ”In fact, the companies’ actual research costs are one of the industry’s most closely guarded secrets. In the 1970s and 1980s, pharmaceutical companies waged a decade-long legal battle to keep even government auditors from reviewing those costs, leaving it unclear whether they include non- scientific costs such as promotion”.

The article stated that the bigger issue that has largely escaped public scrutiny is that “Over the last 30 years, the industry hasn’t focused its efforts on discovering those truly amazing innovations that can change the practice of medicine. Instead, the companies have taken the easy path, ordering their scientists to turn out mostly rehashes of medicines already being sold. It’s far cheaper to copy a medicine — tweaking a molecule just enough so it gets its own patent — than it is to do the years of work needed to find new and better cures”.

The author further highlighted, “This focus on copycat medicines is apparent in the list of drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Of the medicines approved between 1990 and 2004, only 16% were what government reviewers deemed to be actually new and significant. The rest were medicines we were already using in a slightly different form. This explains why our pharmacies are stocked with a multitude of medicines that reduce cholesterol in the same exact way. With no price controls, the industry gets away with charging exorbitant amounts — even for drugs that barely work.”

High out-of-pocket expenses for health makes price control relevant in India: 

Medicines are essential for all and constitute a significant cost component of modern healthcare systems, globally. However, in India, overall healthcare system is fundamentally different from many other countries, including China.

Around 80% of expenses towards healthcare, including medicines, are reimbursed either by the Governments or through Health Insurance or similar other mechanisms in many countries.

However, in India the situation is just the reverse, more than 70% of overall healthcare costs are private or out-of-pocket expenses, incurred by the individuals/families. In addition, out of the total 70% out-of-pocket expenses, medicines contribute around 71%, making the life more difficult for many. (Reference: ‘High Level Expert Group Report on Universal Health Coverage for India’ Instituted by Planning Commission of India).

Thus the issue of price control of ‘Essential medicines’ is extremely relevant in the country, more so when pharmaceuticals come under its Essential Commodities Act.


It is now widely believed that pharmaceutical products, which play a pivotal role in keeping the population of any nation healthy and disease free to the extent possible, should not be exploited by anyone.

Pharmaceutical companies are often criticized in this area by those stakeholders who are genuinely concerned with the well-being of particularly ailing poor and underprivileged population across the world.

While looking through the ‘Kaleidoscope of Drug Price Control’ spanning across the world, it appears quite obvious that the raging debate on improving access to modern medicines will continue to revolve round the pharmaceutical pricing mechanism in almost all countries of the world. India is no exception, in any way.

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.