India's Cipla puts fire-sale prices on cancer drugs

In what appears as a full-on assault on the pricing structure of Western drugmakers, Indian genericsmaker Cipla will sell its copies of cancer drugs for a fraction of their branded counterparts.

Cipla is discounting its version of Bayer's Nexavar from about $525 for a month's supply to about $128, The Wall Street Journal reports. That compares to Bayer's price tag of about $5,235. Cipla also will slash the cost of AstraZeneca's ($AZN) cancer drug temozolomide by 75%.

Western drugmakers of course believe there could be great financial rewards for selling branded drugs to India's 1.2 billion people. But they were already getting nervous when the government a few weeks ago ordered Bayer to issue a compulsory license for Nexavar on the grounds that it was badly needed but too expensive for the country's very poor population.

The pharmaceutical industry points to the billions it has to pour into R&D to develop and get approval for all of these life-saving treatments, but that argument hasn't worked so well in India, which has spurned patents before.

Richard Bergstrom, director general of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, tells WSJ that there has to be a better way to get cheaper treatments to the poor than forcing drug companies to license their drugs to genericsmakers before they have a chance to recoup their investments.

But Cipla became heroic in Africa when it began selling cheap versions of cancer drugs a decade ago, and its managing director is casting this move in that light.

"We had taken the lead to provide affordable medicine for AIDS, and I think the time has now come--10 years later--when we do a similar thing for cancer," Y. K. Hamied tells WSJ.

- read the WSJ story