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MP seeks PM’s intervention to reduce prices of breast cancer drugs

Gireesh Babu, New Delhi
Friday, December 23, 2022, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

A Parliamentarian has sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention to take measures, including invoking relevant sections of the Patent Act, to facilitate generic availability of the three high priced drugs for treating breast cancer.

Dr Lorho S Pfoze, a member of the Parliamentary Committee on health and family welfare and a member of Indian Medical Parliamentarian’s Forum (IMPF), in a letter requested the Prime Minister to issue a government use license under Section 100 of the Indian Patents Act to make the generic version of the CD/4 inhibitors - ribociclib, palbociclib and abemaciclib available to facilitate affordable access to thousands of needy Indian women.

The CDK/4 inhibitors used for treating metastatic HR+/HER2- breast cancer clearly manifest how a patent monopoly on drugs has played havoc with thousands of Indian women who have breast cancer. Currently, three medicines are available in the treatment market, viz. ribociclib, palbociclib and abemaciclib.

“All three medicines are priced between Rs. 48,000 to Rs. 95,000 per month. Consequently, each patient must pay nearly Rs. 60,000 to Rs.120,000 lakhs to extend their life for 12-20 months. This is evidence of the high unmet need for access to life-saving cancer drugs, especially among women,” said Pfoze.

“Therefore, we request you urgently issue a government use license under Section 100 of the Indian Patents Act to make the generic version of these medicines available to facilitate affordable access to thousands of needy Indian women,” he added.

He requested the Prime Minister to appoint an expert panel to introduce free comprehensive cancer care treatment in the country and to examine the impact of patents on the availability and affordability of various cancer medicines.

Pointing out that the 139th Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health which stated that about 40 per cent of cancer hospitalisation cases are financed mainly through borrowings, sale of assets and contributions from friends and relatives and considering such a glaring gap in affordability when it comes to quality cancer care, the Committee feels that there is a strong need to make cancer care affordable through suitable interventions from both government and private sectors.

“This emphasises an urgent intervention from the government to facilitate a comprehensive cancer diagnosis and treatment in the country. Though several governments and state-funded health insurance schemes have been intended to improve cancer coverage for specific population groups, with variations across states, no single scheme has been envisaged that comprehensively covers cancer diagnosis and treatment across all beneficiaries,” he added. 

Further, the schemes are highly fragmented, and there is a significant nationwide variation in the nature of treatment available. Also, the various public insurance schemes are limited only to inpatient treatment; therefore, outpatient treatment and high-level tertiary care, including expensive medicines, are not covered. Consequently, patients in these schemes cannot access many new medicines even though they are a part of the standard treatment regimens. Since the government funding for cancer care is limited and there are accessibility issues at the existing facilities, a significant portion of outpatient and inpatient care is delivered at private, high-priced facilities, with costs typically paid out-of-pocket.

Therefore, these schemes must be reformed to include comprehensive care. We request you take a lead role in improving these schemes to offer comprehensive free cancer diagnosis and treatment across the country.

Many new medicines for cancer treatment are under patent production. Therefore, affordable generic versions cannot be produced in India despite the technological capacity to produce the medicine locally. The Parliamentary Committee report highlighted how local production has the potential to make these medicines affordable. Most of these patented medicines are imported from abroad with limited local production. Thus, patent holders are using patents as a tool to maintain import monopoly and charge high prices. As a result, many of the Indian population are denied access to life-saving medicines, he added.


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