Cipla chief aims for more cut-rate cancer drugs

Look out, cancer drugmakers. Cipla chief Yusuf Hamied wants to shake up your market just as he shook up HIV drugs 11 years ago. That's when his India-based company started supplying generic anti-AIDS cocktails at a small fraction of their branded prices.

Cipla made headlines last month when it said it would price its copycat version of Bayer's Nexavar at $130 per month, 75% lower than its previous price and one-fortieth the $5,500-per-month cost of the branded version. Cipla rival Natco Pharma had won a compulsory license from Bayer on the kidney cancer drug, but its version was priced at $175. Cipla also cut prices on two of its other oncology treatments.

Unlike Natco, Cipla doesn't have Bayer's blessing to sell its Nexavar version. Cipla launched its copy in 2010 while an Indian patent challenge was still pending, an at-risk launch, in other words. Whether Hamied intends to roll out new cancer drugs in a similar fashion, or simply cut the prices on meds already in his portfolio, isn't clear.

Perhaps he's expecting help from the Indian government. Back when the company rolled out its first HIV drugs, branded drugmakers called him an intellectual property thief, Agence France-Presse reports. But Indian patent law at the time allowed Cipla to knock off branded drugs, so long as the process for making them differed. Now, India's patent regulation is tighter, though it does allow for compulsory licensing of "life-saving" drugs, as with Nexavar. Cipla has been pressing the government to force more companies to license their brands.

"I hope we'll cut prices of many more cancer drugs," Hamied told AFP. "Reducing the price of cancer drugs is a humanitarian move."

- read the AFP story

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