Affordable, safe healthcare is an urgent need; use political will to boost innovation in pharma

There is no reason that we cannot transform our tremendous talent pool and our potential for pharmaceutical research into solutions for advanced and affordable treatments. To realize the goals of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and to bring down the rising burden of non-communicable disease in the country, we need to steer our efforts towards intensifying innovation in the pharma sector. For this, stakeholders and policy makers should work towards creating an environment in the country where domestic and international players can work in tandem to build capacity for sustained drug innovations with focus on those in need.

According to WHO (World Health Organization), in the year 2014, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) contributed to an estimated 61 percent of all deaths in India, and it is projected that by the year 2030, this number will rise to 67 percent. This is more than half of the deaths caused by infectious diseases, malnutrition related diseases, accidents and other reasons.

This changing burden of disease, from communicable to non-communicable, can only be countered by ensuring affordable and effective healthcare at the community level. For this, we need to intensify drug innovation and focused disease research in the country, in parallel with health insurance cover for all Advancements in drugs and devices is key to bringing far-reaching benefits to patients, because it helps improve healthcare systems and benefits the economy by enabling patients’ access to improved cures.

 Affordable, safe healthcare is an urgent need; use political will to boost innovation in pharma

Representational image. Reuters

Dramatic improvement in cancer treatment across the globe is a fine example of how drug innovation could make the treatment of one of the most feared and high-cost diseases, effective and reasonable. Continued research in cancer has helped expand our knowledge of how the disease develops and how medicines can target specific cancer types. The success in cancer treatment drugs shows that pharmaceutical research does not end once a medicine is approved by the Drug Regulatory Authority, rather it is the beginning of a sustained and focused effort. This also reveals how the dedicated investment in research helps improve clinical outcomes, simplify treatment regimens and increasing availability.

The rise in the incidences of NCDs is not limited to the developing countries, but is a worldwide phenomenon. Government bodies and regulatory pathways across the globe are aligning policies to boost innovation. It is high time that India leverages this international momentum for new technologies and pharma innovations to develop affordable and groundbreaking therapies in the interest of patients.

Data from 30 developed and developing countries show the powerful impact of pharma innovation on longevity, productivity, and medical expenditure. Why should Indian patients be denied such innovation?

To take advantage of this global drive, we need more investment in our fund-starved pharmaceutical infrastructure. Acknowledging the investment gaps in Research and Development (R&D), the government of India is not only relaxing its policies on foreign direct investments (FDI) but also initiating dialogue on international platforms to build synergies in terms of knowledge sharing and technical proficiencies. While the overall idea is to push the domestic pharmaceutical market with funds and capacities, changes at policy level should also be aimed at drawing the attention of international players towards the Indian market, by encouraging collaboration and creating a conducive ecosystem for such investments.

In fact, to attract foreign investors, not just to invest but to build their R&D infrastructure in the country, the government has also proposed changes in drug regulation and patent policies. To increase trust and certainty among investors, the new drug approval policy has some major amendments such as increased transparency and single window clearance for clinical trials.

Another important factor which can become a major driving force for increased innovation and sustained development in the pharmaceutical sector is securing Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). The idea is to have a healthy reward-oriented culture that is based on mutual trust and shared benefits.

In India, where 71 percent of all healthcare expenses continue to be out of pocket and each year 39 million people are sinking into poverty while covering healthcare costs, there is an urgent need to ensure safe, effective and inexpensive treatments. Taking leads from increased political will, the time is right to align and intensify our efforts towards increasing pharma innovation in the country. At the same time, it is critical to increase health insurance to cover medicines. India also needs to do a lot of work on improving accessibility to OPD and IPD health Insurance cover for all.

With improved economic prosperity, social mobility, growing segment of prescription drugs and increased access to advanced healthcare, we are perfectly placed to leverage the global drive in biopharmaceutical research and develop a dynamic ecosystem that delivers effective and affordable treatment to all.

(The author is a founder, Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) India)

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Updated Date: Aug 03, 2017 19:01:47 IST