Free competition is the only way to reduce drug prices, said the veteran chemist and chairman of generic pharmaceutical company Cipla.

In a few years, India will feel the devastating impact of product patents, which the country had reintroduced in 2005, taking away the legal freedom to manufacture affordable life-saving drugs that are not available in India, veteran chemist and chairman of generic pharmaceutical company Cipla Yusuf Hamied has said.

Describing the impact of drug patents as “selective genocide in healthcare”, he said that it had brought in a monopoly of all new drugs introduced in India and with it, a spiralling up of prices. Cancer drugs, for instance, were unaffordable at Rs. 3 lakh a month, Dr. Hamied told reporters on Monday at the launch of a new chemistry education programme.

“Monopoly leads to high prices. We need free competition — that is the only way to reduce drug prices. Today, India requires “a simple, pragmatic and obligatory licensing system that can assure vital and life-saving medicines at affordable prices. No one should be denied treatment. Affordable medication is a basic human right,” he said.

Before the 2005 patent regime, India was permitted to reverse-engineer several vital drugs developed in the West, including treatment for HIV/AIDS, he said. In 2001, for instance, India could produce drugs to treat HIV/AIDS and sell them at a dollar a day, which benefited thousands not just in India but also in African countries.

“At that time, 8,000 people were dying in Africa every day from AIDS because they could not afford drugs priced at about U.S. $12,000 for a patient for a year. Today, over 9 million are being treated and 10 million lives have been saved by our affordable drugs.” The short-lived “golden era for the pharma industry” began in 1972 when the Indian government abolished product patents that it had followed under the British Patent Act of 1911, Dr. Hamied said. “It, however, retained process patents for seven years.”

Dr. Hamied announced the launch of an innovative chemistry education programme in India called ‘Royal Society of Chemistry Hameid Inspirational Chemistry Programme’ to which the entrepreneur has donated Rs. 8 crore. The programme, to be managed by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), looks to train teachers to deliver engaging chemistry lessons and to support school students especially those from less advantaged backgrounds.

Chief executive of the RSC Robert Parker and the former president of the RSC Simon Campbell spoke.

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