Kurian bats for generic drugs

Calls for ban on drug firms marketing `branded generic drugs’

Published - May 10, 2017 07:45 pm IST - KOZHIKODE

Former Controller General of Patents P.H. Kurian, who is at present Additional Chief Secretary, Revenue Department, has strongly advocated for doctors prescribing only generic drugs.

Taking the current debate on generic drugs forward, Mr. Kurian also called for a ban on the practice of pharmaceutical companies marketing ‘branded generics.’ “There should be a law banning the drug firms marketing the so-called `branded generic drugs’ that help them to reap huge profits at the cost of patients,” Mr. Kurian told The Hindu .

Mr. Kurian’s decision in 2011 to grant ‘compulsory licence’ to an Indian company for manufacturing a cancer drug on a patent held by a multinational pharmaceutical firm was hailed as a landmark event. The licence was issued to Natco Pharma, a Hyderabad-based generic-drug maker, to produce the generic version of Nexavar made by Bayer. Natco was asked to sell the drug at Rs 8,800 for 120 tablets, a month’s dosage. The price of the branded drug at the time was Rs.2.8 lakh.

Mr. Kurian’s decision was later upheld by the Intellectual Property Appellate Board and is now routinely cited as a precedent in patent law globally.

Referring to the huge price differences between branded drugs and generic ones, Mr. Kurian said: “I believe Natco has further reduced the price to Rs.6,000.” This had benefited thousands of poor cancer patients.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s April 17 Surat speech, in which he hinted at bringing in a law asking doctors to prescribe generic drugs, has kicked up a debate in the medical community. (Generic refers to the chemical make-up of a medicine rather than its brand name given by the pharmaceutical company; also, a medicine becomes `generic’ when its patent period expires).

Following up on Mr. Modi’s remarks, the Medical Council of India has warned of action against doctors not prescribing generic drugs.

However, the majority of doctors seem to oppose the move saying that the quality of generic drugs cannot be fully trusted and that drug testing in India is very weak. But, the advocates of generic drugs allege that the preference for branded drugs is with an eye on the kickbacks from the pharma companies.

Mr. Kurian pointed out that many top companies, which charged exorbitant prices for their branded drugs, actually get the products produced cheaply by small firms. “How do doctors know that such drugs are quality products?” Mr. Kurian asked.

As a via media, Mr. Kurian suggested that drugs carry the INN (International Non-proprietary Name), along with the drug makers’ name. “For instance,” he said, “You can name metformin, the drug for diabetes, as `metformin Ranbaxy’ and `metformin Glaxo.’ But, companies marketing `branded generics’ should be banned.

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