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Jun 20, 2007 at 09:42pm IST

The chemistry of drug price rise

Mumbai: It's a known fact that MNC drugs are highly priced and more so if there are innovations – big or small.

Improving a medicine is good. But the question arises if it's given just a minor tweak, with no major improvement in its curing power, should it get a patent? What if drugs as effective were available for a third of the cost?

“If there's a minor change like a little bit of change in the composition of the tablet, then the price of the tablet should not increase,” said Ankit Somani, a consumer.

The Mashelkar Technical Expert Group's recommendations don't quite back that view. It favors awarding patents to incrementally improved drugs instead of limiting them to all new chemical entities.

If accepted, big pharmaceutical companies will hold on to their existing patents with very little investment. And local companies won't be able to produce cheap copies of those drugs.

“Availability and price, both are linked directly to the patent and incremental innovations if granted would lead to extending the patent life. It is this concern of public health which government must address,” said Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance Secretary General Dilip G Shah.

But big MNCs beg to differ. “This expensive way of doing research, if you do not incentivise that, if there's no returns on that, people will not invest money on research and that is why patenting is very important,” said Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India Director General Dr Ajit V Dangi.

After allegations that their cancer drug Glivec was much more expensive than Indian versions, Novartis offered it free to poor people.

But then Glivec is a one off case. Much rests on achieving a balance between reward for research and better pricing.

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