India extends price caps to 52 more essential drugs

MUMBAI (Reuters) - India has extended price caps to 52 drugs deemed essential by the government, as the country’s drug price regulator enforces measures to improve the affordability of medicines.

An employee of Lupin Limited works at a reception at their headquarters in Mumbai November 22, 2013. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

The additional drugs, including painkillers and antibiotics, join a list of nearly 400 essential treatments under price control in India, where a majority of people live on less than $2 a day and health insurance is scarce.

Indian law allows the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) regulator to fix prices of drugs on a list of essential medicines. In a notice issued in September, the body had fixed the prices of 36 drugs, including those to treat infections and diabetes.

The latest additions bring the total market size of medicines under price control to about 1.23 billion rupees ($20 million), said market research firm AIOCD Pharmasofttech AWACS Pvt Ltd.

The wide-ranging price cuts have hit both local and foreign drugmakers in India and have been opposed by many in the industry, who have said drug prices in the country are already among the lowest in the world.

In the latest pricing move, the drugs added also include medicines used to treat cancer and skin disorders, a notice on the NPPA website said. It cited the price at which the drugs could now be sold but did not say what that were before.

Price caps on some of these drugs only apply to specific companies, it added.

Companies including Lupin Ltd, Cadila Healthcare Ltd and Merck Ltd, the Indian arm of Germany’s Merck KGaA, are among those selling drugs mentioned in the latest notice, the authority said.

A Lupin spokesman said the company would see no impact from the price caps. Cadila did not immediately respond to a request for comment and Merck Ltd was not immediately reachable.

NPPA Deputy Director Naresh Arya said the regulator continues to look at other disease areas where the prices of drugs may need to be fixed.

Indian pharmaceutical industry bodies filed two separate lawsuits against the NPPA in July over its notice to cap the prices of 108 drugs that were not on India’s national list of essential medicines.

The NPPA’s powers to cap the prices of non-essential medicines were subsequently revoked by a higher authority, but the price caps on the 108 drugs remain, while hearings in the cases continue.

Editing by Sumeet Chatterjee and David Holmes