China signals price cuts for cancer drugs, imports

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China has signaled its intent to cut prices of medicines used to treat serious diseases such as cancer, part of a wider drive to reduce the cost of healthcare for patients in the world’s second-biggest economy.

The National Health and Family Planning Commission is negotiating a pilot program with drug firms to lower the price of five drugs, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday, citing Li Bin, the head of the commission.

The high cost of healthcare is a major point of contention in China, where low levels of state health insurance coverage means patients and their families often burn through savings to buy drugs to treat chronic disease.

“We are taking measures to satisfy people’s need for drugs, especially to resolve issues of high-priced patented drugs and patients unable to afford medicines,” Li said on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing.

China’s drive to lower the price of drugs is one of the main challenges facing drug firms in the world’s second-largest medicine market, where growth has slowed markedly over the past couple of years. Beijing is also supporting domestic firms to take a bigger share of the market.

Li said the pilot scheme would seek to reduce the price of the five drugs by over half, adding the drugs were currently expensive because they were patented or imported. She did not name the drugs or the companies which made them.

China’s cancer drug market is led by Swiss firm Roche Holding AG, followed by China’s Qilu Pharmaceutical, Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine, Jilin Aodong Pharmaceutical Group and Britain’s AstraZeneca PLC, Deutsche Bank said in a 2015 report.

Reporting by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Stephen Coates