Handful of global cancer drugs (7 of 50) make it to India


Cancer drugs, being the top focus for research and development, corner the lion’s share of medicines launched globally, yet only a handful make it to developing countries like India.

Only seven oncology drugs were introduced in India over five years (2010-2014), when nearly 50 breakthrough therapies were rolled out globally.

The disparity in availability of oncology therapies becomes even more stark over a 10-year period (2006-2016), with not even one-third of the 270-odd onco-molecules being available in India, a country with over 10 million cancer patients, data culled by TOI from QuintilesIMS, a technology-driven healthcare service provider shows.

So, even as the oncology landscape is rapidly evolving with scientific advances in treatment options, many patients are being left untreated, with most health systems struggling to adapt to the change.

In India, oncology treatment typically run into lakhs, particularly with certain lung, prostrate and breast cancer drugs priced over a lakh per dose in certain cases.

Regulatory systems, diagnostics, treatment infrastructure, and financing mechanisms need to crank up to meet the needs of patients.

“Firms realise that there are medicines which are not broadly available in India due to a range of reasons, and that there is a need to be fully able to access the medicines being discovered and launched in other parts of the world.

Having said that, non-availability of new drugs is not the only barrier. There is a set of broader issues, such as cancer care diagnosis and lack of infrastructure, that need to be resolved for better treatment.

For instance, we have only 2,000 oncologists in India whereas the number of cancer patients amounts to over 10 million.

India needs strong public and private funding to support the cancer care system, with prevention and diagnosis being two important aspects that need to be promoted,” says Amit Mookim, MD, South Asia QuintilesIMS.

Due to disparities in the quality of cancer care globally, less developed regions have a higher cancer mortality rate of 66%, compared to 48% in more developed regions.

In India too, deaths due to cancer are projected to go up by 20% to over 8.8 lakh in the next four years, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research.

Most insurance products don’t cover critical illness

Says Sujay Shetty, leader, pharmaceuticals, at PwC India and Asia Pacific: “Access is a huge challenge since most oncology medicines are exorbitantly priced, and a majority of healthcare spends is out-of-pocket in India.

MNCs have introduced a tiered pricing structure, or have patient assistance programmes, while some non-banking finance companies are providing loans for therapy, to overcome the problem”.

However, K V Subramaniam, president and CEO of Reliance Life Sciences, which offers mainly biosimilars for oncology, rubbishes the tiered pricing structure.

“In reality, what is offered by certain companies is free supplies for the last one or two cycles of chemotherapy. The companies concerned have made their money in the other cycles of chemotherapy for which the patient has bought the drug.”

Therefore, health insurance can play a key role in the healthcare delivery ecosystem, but at present only one-fifth of the Indian population has some cover.
Most health insurance products do not cover critical illnesses such as cancer, and a few comprehensive medical insurance policies come with sub-limits or may not cover the entire cost of treatment.

Therefore, one needs a dedicated cancer care product to address end-to-end cancer care treatment cost. In India, we have only a couple of cancer care insurance products available, said Mookim.

Courtesy: Rupali Mukherjee, The Times of India