Swiss drug maker Roche Holding AG plans to offer cut-price versions of two blockbuster cancer drugs for the Indian market soon, a company spokesman said on Friday, days after the government moved to slash the price of a rival cancer treatment.
The government stripped German's Bayer AG of its exclusive rights to Nexavar earlier this month and licenced a local drugs company to produce a cheap, generic version, on the grounds that the poor could not otherwise afford the life-saving drug.
Roche, the world's biggest maker of cancer drugs, said it would offer “significantly” cheaper, locally branded versions of its two cancer drugs, Herceptin and MabThera, by early next year, under an alliance with India's Emcure Pharmaceuticals Ltd.
“The scope is to enable access for a large majority of patients who currently pay out of pocket as well as to partner with the government to enable increased access to our products for people in need,” spokesman Daniel Grotzky said by phone from company headquarters in Basel, Switzerland.
Monthly doses of Herceptin and MabThera cost around $3,000 to $4,500 per patient at wholesale prices, Grotzky said.
|ON THE BACKFOOT
|* To launch locally branded versions of two cancer drugs, Herception and MabThera, under an alliance with Emcure Pharmaceuticals
|* The monthly doses of these two drugs cost around $3,000-$4,500 (approx Rs 1.5 lakh-2.2 lakh) per patient
|* Prices of local versions will be significantly lower, but company did not reveal exact price
|* Roche non-committal on whether this move a response to the compulsory licence revoked against Bayer’s Nexavar
|* Because of the compulsory licence, Natco will retail Nexavar at Rs 8,800 for a monthly dose, a fraction of the Rs 2.8 lakh Bayer’s version cost.
“With this strategy, we expect to significantly increase the number of patients treated with our therapies and help patients currently under treatment to continue to use our products properly,” he added.
He would not be drawn on how much the local versions would cost, nor whether Roche was responding to the Bayer case.
The move highlights a growing debate about the cost of modern cancer medicines, which often work far better than traditional chemotherapy but come at a high price.
In other areas of medicines —notably HIV/AIDS drugs for Africa — drug companies have already cut prices substantially. More recently, some firms, including GlaxoSmithKline, have also been experimenting with discounts on certain products in middle-income countries. However, Roche has in the past argued that consumers everywhere should pay the same price for its cancer drugs.
The Wall Street Journal on Friday quoted Roche's head of West Asia and Asian markets as saying the cheaper versions would be renamed for the Indian market and be packed by Emcure Pharmaceuticals in an effort to gain market share.
In the Bayer case, the government for the first time issued a so-called compulsory licence to local drugmaker Natco Pharma to make and sell a generic version of Bayer's Nexavar, a liver and kidney cancer drug, inside the country.
Under world trade rules, compulsory licences are available to nations to issue in certain cases where life-saving treatments are unaffordable.
With around 40 per cent of India's population living below the poverty line, healthcare is an upper-middle-class luxury.
Campaigners for cheaper access to drugs hailed the Bayer decision, which was taken after the country’s patent office said Nexavar was not “reasonably affordably priced”. But the ruling reignited fears amongst global drugmakers like Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis. They see huge potential in rapidly growing economies such as India but are wary of intellectual property protection.
Natco will retail Nexavar at Rs 8,800 for a monthly dose, a fraction of the Rs 280,000 Bayer's version cost.