Cipla slashes prices on another cancer-drug trio

Cipla is roiling the waters in India again. Six months after slashing the prices on three cancer drugs--including a knockoff of Bayer's still-on-patent Nexavar--the company has issued another round of hefty price cuts.

This time, Cipla is targeting Roche's ($RHHBY) lung cancer drug Tarceva, cutting its copycat price by 63%, to 9,900 rupees, or $182, per month. That's down from 27,000 rupees, or about $500. The move comes after an Indian court upheld Roche's patent on the drug--but also determined that Cipla's copy didn't infringe that patent. The other two drugs are docetaxel and capecitabine, two commonly used treatments for multiple cancers; Cipla cut those prices in half.

Cipla Chairman Y.K. Hamied is something of an access-to-medicines crusader, and those efforts have not only brought a host of drugs within reach of patients in developing countries, they've also pushed Cipla to an estimated market value of $5 billion and made Hamied himself quite rich. By Forbes' most recent estimates, his personal fortune stands at about $1.75 billion.

Hamied and Cipla are best known for taking on HIV drug prices. The company grew by leaps and bounds by turning out off-price copies of expensive AIDS-fighters. Now, Cipla appears to be applying the same strategies to cancer drugs.

Cipla isn't alone in taking on Big Pharma in India these days. Natco Pharma recently won the country's first compulsory license, which allows it to sell its version of Bayer's Nexavar, despite the drug's patent-protected status. Earlier this week, Indian officials yanked Roche's patent on the hepatitis C drug Pegasys, and last month, the patent office revoked Pfizer's ($PFE) patent on its kidney cancer drug Sutent.

The Sutent decision came after Cipla and Natco joined forces to challenge Pfizer's patent. And Natco has said it's planning to apply for more compulsory licenses.

- check out the Cipla release (PDF)
- read the Hindu Business Line story