India drugs watchdog to look at feasibility of online drug sales

Drugs Controller General of India G.N. Singh

The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has moved to create a subcommittee to study the feasibility of online drug sales even in the face of strong opposition from brick-and-mortar pharmacies and as restrictions on such sales are routinely flouted, DNA India newspaper reports.

The move comes as prescription drugs are currently exported by Indian-based suppliers via online orders from abroad and at home, DNA India said. State Food & Drug Administration probes have halted the practice in Maharashtra, home to the financial hub of Mumbai, and Karnataka, home to the tech hub of Bangalore, among others.

Administrators from several states have been asked to form a subcommittee to look into the issue at the DCGI's request, DNA India said, which will be chaired by Maharashtra FDA commissioner Harshdeep Kamble.

"The sub-committee has been asked to view in detail the online sale of medicines," Kamble told DNA India.

"Currently, there are many companies engaged in online pharmacies across the country, in violation of the Drugs & Cosmetics Act," Kamble added. "In view of this, the committee has been directed to suggest mechanisms/ guidelines for online pharmacy practice."

Among the issues is that of over-the-counter versus prescription medicines and whether digital signatures are acceptable, DNA India said.

In June, the Indian Pharmacist Association and the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists made a pre-emptive move to note its opposition to any online drug sales, writing to the DCGI to say they were not in the larger public interest.

Online drug sales in China, Japan and India have various levels of opposition--and support--with China clearly ahead in the process, as governments in each country seek ways to keep the costs of medicines in check.

In addition, the new business models spawned in each country are also lobbying to widen the scope, arguing that such services benefit elderly home-bound patients.

And India has struggled to use price controls to widen access and affordability for many essential drugs, according to recent reports.

Kamble told DNA India that such considerations were important to consider.

"In the wake of IT advancements and related mobile phone-based applications, it was felt that it is vital to have an in-depth assessment of online pharmacy practices," Kamble said. "With growth of consumer goods and general commodities sold online, it is viewed that a medical drug is an essential and important item. Such a segment in the E-commerce space is critical to the growing patient population, who were looking for efficiency and convenience in access to medicines, in a timely manner."

Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky

Online sales in the consumer space in China also caught the attention of Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) CEO Alex Gorsky in the company's second quarter earnings call as a new channel that has disrupted sales patterns.

- here's the story from DNA India