Taking over the pharmaceutical trade world by storm, Chinese and Indian drug makers now manufacture more than 80 percent of the active ingredients in drugs sold worldwide. With complex and expensive patents increasingly used to treat cancer, diabetes and other diseases in rich nations expiring by next year, Chinese and Indian drug companies are eager to sell cheaper copies of such huge sellers as Herceptin for breast cancer, Avastin for colon cancer, Rituxan for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Enbrel for rheumatoid arthritis.
Further, their entry into the market by 2012 made possible by hundreds of millions of dollars invested in biotechnology plants — could not only transform the care of patients in much of the world but also ignite a counterattack by major pharmaceutical companies and diplomats from richer countries.
As both China and India look to overhaul their healthcare sector, making it more available to the rural and poor they are also fighting the, the Obama administration which has been trying to stop an effort to strike a new international bargain that would allow them to get around patent rights and import cheaper Indian and Chinese knock-off drugs for cancer and other diseases, as they did to fight AIDS. The debate turns on whether diseases like cancer can be characterized as emergencies, or “epidemics.”
Dr. Yusuf K. Hamied, chairman of the Indian drug giant Cipla Ltd., electrified the global health community a decade ago when he said he could produce cocktails of AIDS medicines for US$1 per day — a fraction of the price charged by branded pharmaceutical companies. That price has since fallen to 20 cents per day (Rs. 10 or RMB 1.30), and more than six million people in the developing world now receive treatment, up from little more than 2,000 in 2001.
Dr. Hamied told the New York Times in a telephone interview last week that he and a Chinese partner, BioMab, had together invested $165 million to build plants in India and China to produce at least a dozen biotech medicines. Other Indian companies have also built such plants. Since these medicines are made with genetically engineered bacteria, they must be tested extensively in patients before sale.
Once those tests are complete, Dr. Hamied promised to sell the drugs at a third of their usual prices, which typically cost tens of thousands of dollars for a course of treatment.
“And once we recover our costs, our prices will fall further,” he said. “A lot further.”