China Cuts Down Cost Of 17 Life-Saving Cancer Drugs

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China cuts down the cost of 17 life-saving cancer drugs and included them in its national public insurance as a response in cost fuelling of smuggled cheap drugs from abroad. All of these drugs are considered to be clinically necessary, urgently needed, and effective for patients who are suffering from lymphoma, melanoma, colorectal cancer, renal cell carcinoma, non-small-cell lung carcinoma, and other types of cancer.

According to the statement by the State Medical Security Administration, the majority of these drugs are far from patent expiration and manufactured by pharmaceutical giants - including Merck, Novartis, and Pfizer. The prices have been reduced by 56.7 percent on average, with imported drugs 36 percent lower compared to the neighboring markets.

The cost of Erbitux, which is manufactured by Merck, was cut down from more than 4,200 Yuan (US$607) to 1,295 Yuan (US$187). Yuan Zezhi, a senior executive from Merck, said this is the lowest globally.

"It's quite remarkable to drop the price of foreign patented drugs to such an extent," said Shi Lichen, director of Dingchen Pharmaceutical Management Consulting. "This will benefit local residents."

The latest statistics from the National Cancer Centre revealed more than 10,000 people were diagnosed with cancer in China in 2014, as per the South China Morning Post. Lung cancer has the highest incident, followed by gastric cancer, colorectal cancer, and breast cancer - more likely in people aged 60 to 64. Factors that contributed to increased cancer rates in the country include unhealthy diets, longer life expectancy, and the large population of smokers.

Even though China has established a public medical insurance system for almost every resident, the coverage is still limited and only includes very few patented anti-cancer drugs. Hence, it was beyond affordability for the majority. Because of this, some tried to smuggle in drugs from abroad, which are not usually approved in China, or buy cheaper but effective generic drugs from India.

Those who cannot afford the drugs even after they are covered by national public insurance could still use smuggled generic medicine. The national health authorities would also make a global purchase of generic drugs affordable for cancer treatment, Shi said.

In 2016, Beijing started the price negotiation to make the life-saving medicine more accessible, but only three drugs successfully included in the first round. In the second round last year, more pharmaceutical companies were invited. Eventually, 36 more drugs were covered in the national health insurance scheme, and ten of the 17 drugs are new drugs which hit the market after 2017.

Meanwhile, China prepares to produce more affordable foreign drugs in other ways. On May 1, Beijing removed tariffs on all imported cancer drugs after Premier Li Keqiang toured Roche Shanghai. He hoped companies could market drugs at lower costs and profit from increased sales.

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