India’s Department of Pharmaceuticals is in the midst of establishing a mechanism to regulate the prices of cancer drugs. India had been mulling over the decision to control cancer drug prices over the last two years. Soaring cancer drug prices in India have crippled the affordability of this treatment among cancer patients in the country. In a study conducted by India’s National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), the government found that prices ranged widely for similar cancer drugs sold in India.
There are an estimated 2 million cancer patients in India. The number of cancer patients in India grows an average of 1%, or 1 million people each year. This is just slightly lower than the number of new cancer patients in the US, at 1.5 million each year. Cancer is India’s fourth largest killer, behind cardiovascular, respiratory and childhood diarrhea diseases. The current Indian cancer drug market is estimated at $280 million. This amount is expected to exceed $400 million by 2014, as the Indian population grows amid unhealthy living and rising environmental pollution.
Price controls for cancer drugs in India will not be easy. Currently, the Indian government can fix prices of commonly used drugs, but not prices of imported medicines, including cancer drugs and other patented drugs. However, there is a policy that allows the government to intervene in drug prices out of public interest. Nevertheless, this provision is only applicable to drug prices which have increases exceeding 10% a year. It is less effective for controlling drug prices which are initially set at high prices since the products’ launch.