The latest recommendations by a government panel on the proposed patented drug pricing policy are seen as a threat to compulsory licensing, which has just begun in India.
The panel of representatives from various ministries and chaired by B K Singh, director, department of pharmaceuticals, has suggested the government negotiate prices of patented medicines based on reference prices of such drugs in other countries such as Britain, Canada, France, Australia and New Zealand.
Cpncern has been expressed by drug pricing activist groups of this move hampering further grant of compulsory licences, delaying the entry of low-cost generic versions in the market.
“Once the government starts negotiating the prices of patented drugs, companies will use it to argue against the need for a compulsory licence,” says Leena Menghaney, campaign co-ordinator (India), Medecins Sans Frontieres.
The latter body campaigns for affordable access to essential medicines across the world.
She says price negotiation by the government is not a reliable way to go forward. “Generic drugs would still be much cheaper in price than the negotiated price. However, once prices are negotiated, it is bound to block ways for approval of generic medicines,” she says.
Another criticism is that the benchmark or reference prices under consideration do not match Indian economic conditions.
“The prices of medicines in Britain, Canada and France are way above those in India,” said another health activist.
Patient groups are also concerned that price negotiation of patented medicines would not just hurt Indian patients but are likely to impact those across the world, as India is a major supplier of low-cost essential medicines.
“A delay in compulsory licence would also mean that generic drug makers would not be allowed to manufacture the generic version here,” said Menghaney.