April 05, 2015

Research Roundup: India to expand list of essential medicines, China’s emerging leadership in the pharmaceutical industry, WHO paves the way for hepatitis C generics, and more

Senior Program Assistant

India is expected to add all of the drugs currently used in the government’s HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) control programs to its list of essential medicines within the next six months. These drugs are currently available for free in public clinics; many patients, however, prefer private clinics due to perceived discrepancies in quality of care. The list, which was last updated in 2011, sets price caps to ensure that treatments remain affordable—paramount in a nation where more than 70 percent of the population lives on less than US$2 per day.

China’s investments in health-related research and development (R&D) are expected to surpass US funding by 2023. The government of China has invested $1.1 billion in drug development since 2011, due to a policy mandate requiring increased funding for life sciences, including the pharmaceutical industry. Meanwhile, US funding for global health R&D has declined or plateaued each year since 2009. China is currently the world’s biggest manufacturer of active pharmaceutical ingredients and is becoming a leading site for contract research organizations, which support preclinical and clinical research for major pharmaceutical companies.

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a guidance document last week regarding a leading medicine for hepatitis C. The new guidance will inform the design of bioequivalence studies, which determine whether a generic is comparable to a patented product. The drug, sofosbuvir, is patented by Gilead Sciences and can cost up to $1,000 per pill. Proof of bioequivalence will be critical for manufacturers aiming to produce a generic drug and ultimately seek WHO prequalification for their product.

In her final speech as commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Dr. Margaret Hamburg defended the agency’s rigorous drug approval process. “Innovation doesn’t matter if the product doesn’t work,” she noted, highlighting the risks of “unsafe and ineffective medical products.” Hamburg’s remarks come as the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee is in the process of developing legislation—known as 21st Century Cures—that calls on the FDA to expedite the regulatory process using its “breakthrough therapy” designation. This designation, which ensures an accelerated review and increased guidance from the FDA, was granted to 31 drugs in 2014. The 21st Century Cures legislation would allow the FDA to review products based only on preliminary clinical trial data and would allow companies to hold off on long-term safety and efficacy trials until after the product was on the market.