Domestic drug prices immune to pharma acquisitions

Fears that Big Pharma controlling Indian drugmakers could reduce access and affordability of key medicines have triggered rules on 100% foreign direct investment, but sales data show there is little to worry.

Sales of the top five "essential" medicines continued to clock compounded annual growth rates (CAGR) of 14-24% between 2009 and 2012, for both multinational and domestic pharma companies.

Sales of the common anti-allergic cetirizine grew 20.15%, antibiotic amoxicillin/clavulanate 22.84% and antacid pantoprazole 23.80%, research firm IMS Health data found. Data also show paracetamol, a common molecule used in pain-killers and fever reducers, was selling at a CAGR of 14.78% while cholesterol-reducing atorvastatin grew 14.28%.

Further, it has been neck-and-neck competition between MNCs and domestic firms in many categories. For instance, in paracetamol, the top seller is Wockhardt with an annual turnover of R246 crore in FY 2013 while GlaxoSmithKline (MNC) came a close second with sales of R200 crore during the same period. Similarly, Ranbaxy (which was taken over by Japan's Daiichi Sankyo in 2008) sold R146 crore worth of atorvastatin in 2013 while domestic firm Zydus Cadila closed in with sales of R145 crore.

A department of pharmaceuticals (DoP) analysis also found no evidence that acquisitions led to stoppage of nationally relevant drugs. No relationship was noticed between acquisitions and price increase.

The trend analysis of the total number of medicine packs available in the domestic market showed an overall increase of 5.8% between March 2009 and March 2011, according to an internal evaluation conducted by DoP, refuting the perception that availability of essential medicines would decrease after takeover by overseas firms.

The DoP also conducted a price analysis of various "essential" drugs for the period May 2009-May 2011 in three categories: Seven top domestic companies (Cipla, Sun, Mankind, Alkem, Lupin, Zydus Cadila and Intas), seven top MNCs (Abbott, GSK, Pfizer, Sanofi Aventis, Novartis, MSD and Merck) and seven major Indian companies acquired by MNCs (Ranbaxy, Ranbaxy Global CHC, Orchid, Shanta, Paras, Dabur and Piramal). It concluded that "factually, the trend in prices for all three categories is similar so far and no conclusion can be drawn to support the fact that acquisition of Indian companies by foreign firms has resulted in price increase".

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