Tuesday, February 28, 2006

High-tech colonialism in India

Drug companies are finding it attractive to test drugs in third-world countries like India:

Companies are attracted to India not only because of the huge patient pool and skilled workers, but also because many potential study volunteers are "treatment naïve," meaning they have not been exposed to the wide array of biomedical drugs that most Western patients have, said Stefan Ecks, a lecturer in social anthropology at the School of Social and Political Studies in Edinburgh who recently published a paper on the marketing of antidepressants in India.

"Doctors are easier to recruit for trials because they don't have to go through the same ethics procedures as their Western colleagues," Ecks said. "And patients ask fewer questions about what is going on."

After the outcry against Shantha and Biocon, the Indian government adopted stricter ethical guidelines for clinical research, but it's too early to know whether companies are abiding by the new rules.

Atul Sath in the Financial Express (Mumbai/Bombay) points out that there are multiple advantages to going this route:
Pharma outsourcing to India has the potential to pick up due to several distinct factors. In US, the time to get the drug to market has increased from 7.5 years in 1970s to 12.5 years in 1990s. This is less by as much as 30-40% if done in India. Moreover, administrative costs incurred by pharma companies in India are 30-50% lower than those in the West.

AT Kearney Inc vice-president & managing director, Andrea Bierce attributes the attractiveness of India as an outsourcing destination to various aspects. “India has a huge pool of talented doctors. 20,000 new doctors graduate every year in India. There is also a distinct wage arbitrage in India. The regulatory requirements in this country are not as strict as those in US.” said Ms Bierce. Lower R&D costs is another major advantage.

Note that getting drugs to market fast is an extraordinarily profitable factor: drug patents only last 20 years after the patent is granted. If the drug approval takes 12 years to complete, then you only have 8 years of competitor-free profits for that drug until generics for it become legal. For instance, Viagra was released by Pfizer, explosively, in 1998, but the relevant patents will expire between 2004 and 2011. (After that, you'll probably be able to get boner pills down at the 7/11.)

Like so many things in modern life, this process seems unstoppable. It can only be shaped, not averted.


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Monday, 03 April, 2006  

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