December 18, 2010

Government to push doctors to prescribe generics

Given the huge price difference between branded drugs and their generic versions, the government is mulling a policy to push doctors to prescribe drugs by their generic names rather than brand names.

"Branded drugs are not innovative. The poor can ill afford them," said Srikant Jena, minister of state for chemicals and fertilisers.

Jena said the recommendations will be prepared and presented to a group of ministers (GoM) on Friday. He was speaking on the sidelines of the India Pharma Summit 2010 in Mumbai, organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in partnership with the Department of Pharmaceuticals.

Jena maintained that almost all common drugs, which were off patent, were available in their generic forms at almost all pharmacies and chemist stores in the country. "The state governments have been informed to ask doctors to prescribe generic drugs to cater to the needs of the poor who cannot afford the exorbitant prices of branded drugs," he added.

The government has been contemplating such a move for some time now. It is no secret that the cost of the branded versions of some widely used drugs are five to seven times the price of their generic counterparts. For example, Ciprofloxacin, a drug used for infections, is available for Rs 55 per tablet, five times the price of its generic version, which costs about Rs 11. Similarly, the generic version of Cetrizine, used to treat allergies, costs Rs 2.75 per tablet, compared to Rs 20 for the branded version.

The minister also said that the government is scrutinising and will review its essential drugs list, which currently includes 350 to 400 medications. These are drugs that are widely used and made easily available at affordable prices. He added that the government will soon regulate the prices of cancer drugs, which was a major point of discussion at a recent parliamentary meeting. Recently, the government is said to have been in talks with drug manufacturers for sourcing medicines to treat cancer at affordable rates. Jena explained that these drugs would be sold at its low-cost pharmacy chain Jan Aushadhi, which has stores across the country. Indian pharma major Cipla Ltd has also been in discussions with the Department of Pharmaceuticals to share the technological know-how for cancer drugs with state-owned companies.

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