Mumbai: India’s largest generics drug maker by sales, Cipla Ltd, which has provoked patent challenges by launching low-cost versions of drugs for the treatment of cancer and HIV/ AIDS, says it is ready to share the technology with the government to meet local demand.
Patent holders’ drugs for the treatment of life-threatening diseases such as cancer and AIDS are expensive and their monopoly in the Indian market will result in denial of treatment for Indian patients, says Amar Lulla, joint managing director of Cipla.
Cipla is facing, in various Indian courts, cases of patent infringement brought by companies such as Hoffman-La Roche Ltd and Bayer Schering Pharma AG after it launched versions of at least three patented drugs, including valgancyclovir (a new drug for treating HIV/AIDS-related infections), erlotinib and sorafenib (drugs for treating lung and kidney cancers) in the domestic market.
Valgancyclovir and erlotinib have been patented by Roche and these drugs, sold by the Swiss drug maker under the brand names Valcyte and Tarceva, cost at least Rs1 lakh for a month’s treatment. Sorafenib, which costs about Rs2.80 lakh for a month’s dosage, has been patented by Bayer Schering and sold under the brand name Nexavar.
Generics offer: Cipla joint managing director Amar Lulla.
Cipla’s versions of these drugs—Valcept, Erlocip and Tosylate—are sold at about one-tenth the price of the patented brands in the Indian market.
“If the government is serious about the healthcare of poor patients, we can help in providing the technology knowhow for producing these drugs,” Lulla said. “Government has already set up the drug retail channel—Jan Aushadhi—and this channel can be very well used to distribute these critical drugs at a reasonable cost.”
Tapan Ray, director-general of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI), an industry body representing foreign drug maker present including Roche and Bayer, said: “As patent itself means sharing detailed information about the innovation and the technology for producing any new chemical/ molecular entity with the government, irrespective of the seriousness of any disease, I am afraid I could not make out what is really new in this approach.”
Cancer and HIV/AIDS are among the four fastest spreading diseases in India. There is a comparatively good supply of low-cost generic drugs produced by Indian companies for treatment of the other two ailments—diabetes and heart disease—but there aren’t many drugs available for effective treatment of cancer.
“There are 3.6-4 million already detected cancer patients in India, and four million could be the number of the undetected cases,” said a person associated with the Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA), a non-profit organization.
Patients of the disease, whose incidence is growing at a yearly rate of 20%, are mostly “either partly treated or fully neglected” due to lack of proper diagnosis and patients’ inability to afford the expensive therapies, said the person, who didn’t want to be named.
There are about 18 small, medium and big drug makers in the Rs1,660 crore local cancer therapy market. While the top four—Roche, Novartis India Ltd, Aventis India Ltd and Pfizer Ltd—mostly import their brands from foreign facilities of their parent companies, their local market prices include customs duty and other logistics costs in addition to research and manufacturing costs.
Their prices, fixed in line with their international pricing policy that applies to markets where healthcare costs are borne by the government or insurance firms, are unaffordable to most Indian patients.
Some, including Roche, Novartis and Pfizer, offer discounts for selected patients through their patient access programmes.