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Pharma MNCs like Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, step up India play with star drug launches

Economic Times:  August, 2015

Mumbai: Far from drawing a gloomy picture of India, global drug makers seem to have turned gung ho on the country.

Most of them are introducing new patented medicines. While some of the biggest multinational firms like Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Boehringer Ingelheim, Gilead and AstraZeneca launched their most promising brands across therapy areas in India, others such as Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) and Amgen are setting themselves up for a bigger role in the Rs 90,000 crore India market that is growing in mid-teens, outshining other emerging markets.

In fact, pharma MNCs in India are growing faster than their local counterparts: according to AIOCD data, they expanded 13.8 per cent in July, compared with 12.6 per cent by Indian companies.

The newfound optimism runs counter to the wide scepticism revolving around the much debated intellectual property laws and a looming uncertainty over clinical trial regulations and drug pricing policies in India. VK Subburaj, secretary to the Department of Pharmaceuticals, last week told reporters that a committee was still deliberating on a framework for pricing of patented drugs. A change in prioritising a commercial revamp is in the air. Swiss drug maker Novartis that witnessed drawn-out patent related litigations in India — first on cancer drug Gleevec and more recently on respiratory treatment Onbrez has launched Sequadra, an advanced treatment for patients with chronic respiratory issues.

"India is both a challenging and an exciting market," said Jawed Zia, country president at Novartis India. "Novartis has a rich pipeline in respiratory, dermatology, cardiovascular and retina. India participates in the extensive clinical trials associated with this pipeline ... Novartis is committed to bringing the latest therapies to India soon after their global launch to the long term benefit of the patient," he said.

Kevin Ali, the emerging markets head of Merck & Co, recently highlighted the increasing importance of India in the US company's plans. "We would like to see a day when we would like to involve more scientists in clinical trial, get more products registered and bring more medicines from our pipeline to India," Ali said in an interview to ET.