Most of us, when thinking about the pharmaceutical industry usually think about large American corporations, waiting in lines at the store for your prescription and the sometimes hefty price tag that comes with a tiny package of pills. But, most of us rarely think about the pharmaceutical industry in relation to India, however, it’s something that should be on our minds as India is making a powerful impact on the pharmaceutical industry. Some say it’s becoming the “uber” of pharmaceuticals. But what does that mean exactly?
Uber was able to change the transportation industry by avoiding government regulations and fees which are imposed on taxi services. The government services and regulations place a monopoly on the industry as you’re not allowed to function unless working under the imposed guidelines. How does this relate to the pharmaceutical industry? Well, essentially the pharmaceutical industry relies on government-granted patents which give exclusive rights to sell a drug. Since the drugs are patented, pharmaceutical companies have the power to directly control the selling price of those drugs. Some of these drugs can cure diseases and improve the quality of one’s life. An example of this was Thiola price hike controversy in which Martin Shkreli, CEO of Retrophin, raised the antiparasitic drug Daraprim from $13.50USD per pill to $750USD per pill. If individuals relying on those drugs are not covered by insurance or their insurance refuses to cover them, they’re simply unable to afford their medicine. This alone limits their access to their quality of life. Just with the Martin Shkreli example, it’s clear that companies they have the power and accessibility to place unreasonable prices for these medicines. Now, if you make a lot of money, this may not be of concern for you. However, as a reminder, for most people affordability is a problem as even insurance companies may not cover the costs.
However, for India, they’re making it extremely difficult for drug patents to be approved. For example, India’s Supreme Court rejected Novartis’ patent on the cancer drug Gleevec. Now, in the USA, this drug sells for $26,000 a year. However, in India, a high-quality generic version of Gleevec sells for $1,000. Their refusal was on the grounds of which Gleevec was made of a combination of drugs which were previously existing prior to the creation of this drug. However, Novartis claims that poorer populations receive drugs via donation. But wouldn’t it just be better if poorer population simply could purchase them at cheaper rates rather than waiting for a donation truck to come once every two or three months? Philanthropy isn’t a sustainable business model, nor is it consistent for life-threatening conditions. Yet they’re still holding on to the belief that it’s more profitable for them to cater to a smaller but wealthier population than it is to cater to a larger but poorer population. Approximately 80% of the world’s population is in developing and transitioning countries and providing an affordable product for that population can mean huge profits which is what India realized.
And as India’s distaste for pharmaceutical patents continue to reign, India is slowly becoming a leader in the pharmaceutical industry. But it hasn’t happened without a fight. Though the Indian government is taking a positive stance against patents and supporting online pharmacies which sell a generic version of medicine pharmaceutical authorities such as the Food and Drug Administration and drug inspectors have been reported of harassing e-pharmacists.
However, though they’re being challenged, the Indian pharmaceutical industry continues to flourish as people continue to buy modafinil products amongst many others. By a report completed by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce the state’s pharmaceutical market is expected to have an annual growth rate of 15%, reaching $55 billion by 2020, with e-pharmacies accounting for 1%. These numbers are huge and without the support of large pharmaceutical companies. Instead, India is looking at ways to truly help those in need without taking advantage of them. In other words, India has recognized that patents are simply outdated and only continue to monopolize the industry. Though companies state that patents are how they fund their research, there are other means to obtain funding – but that’s another topic for another day.
What can be said about India’s makeover of their pharmaceutical industry is that they’re allowing developing countries the access to the same treatments as those in first world countries. In essence, they’re doing what medicine should be doing, helping those in need, regardless of their income. As they continue to prevent the monopolization of their pharmaceutical industry, they’ll continue to expand and even reach the North American market. Though the American pharmaceutical industry will fight them, as more people become aware of the strides India is taking, more and more people will simply go there for the treatment at a quarter of the price.
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