Drug Giant Cipla Slashes Cancer Drug Prices

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Indian generic drug giant Cipla said Friday it had slashed by up to 76 percent prices of three anti-cancer medicines in what it called a "humanitarian" move and promised to cut the costs of more products.

There are 2.5 million cases of cancer diagnosed in India each year, according to the World Health Organisation, with most patients receiving inadequate treatment as drugs are priced beyond their reach.

"Business is business, but it has to be linked with one's social responsibilities. This initiative of price reduction is a humanitarian approach by Cipla to support cancer patients," company chairman Y.K. Hamied said.

"This is the beginning -- we have done it with three products, we will do it I hope with many more," Hamied told Agence France Presse, adding that Cipla had around two dozen anti-cancer drugs in its range.

Cipla cut the price of Soranib, a generic version of German giant Bayer's blockbuster kidney cancer drug Nexavar by 76 percent, and will sell it at 6,840 rupees ($130) for a monthly dose, down from 28,000 rupees.

It also said the lung-cancer drug Gefticip, originally produced by AstraZeneca, would be priced at 4,250 rupees, down by over half, and it cut by three-quarters the price of brain-cancer drug Temoside, originally made by Schering, to 5,000 rupees.

"Drugs constitute a significant proportion of the overall cost of cancer treatment and a reduction in costs can greatly relieve the burden," Hamied said.

Cipla makes its cancer drugs at its plant in the southern state of Goa that has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The family-led company first hit headlines in 2001 when it offered to supply life-saving triple therapy AIDS drug cocktails at prices sharply below those of multinational firms with Hamied saying the move was for "social reasons".

Competition among generic manufacturers in India, known as the "pharmacy to the developing world", has reduced HIV drug prices from $10,000 per person per year to $150, Medicines Sans Frontieres says.

Cipla has been pushing the Indian government to allow widespread use of so-called "compulsory licences" for production of life-saving patented drugs to overcome barriers for people in accessing affordable medicines.

Compulsory licenses are allowed under the World Trade Organization's TRIPS Agreement, which governs trade and intellectual property rules.

Analysts said Cipla's move could prompt a price war in the 15-billion-rupee Indian drug market -- challenging multinationals which sell costly patented medicine and Indian firms whose generic range is less expensive but not as cheap as Cipla's.

"This market is price-sensitive and when larger players start cutting prices, others will likely follow," Sudarshan Padmanabhan, pharmaceutical analyst at Mumbai investment house Prabhudas Lilladher, told AFP.

Shares in Cipla, whose market value is around $5 billion, rose 2.46 percent to 325.20 rupees on the back of an "outperform" rating by brokerage CLSA, as a falling Indian currency swells foreign earnings and its domestic market grows.