Supportive policies have been released by the central government to reduce the prices of cancer drugs and further relieve financial stress for patients, health officials said on April 28.
Beginning on May 1, China will exempt 28 drugs from import tariffs — including all cancer drugs — as part of broader market-opening measures.
Prices of imported cancer drugs will be reduced via negotiations with both foreign suppliers and domestic distributors, said Zeng Yixin, deputy director of the National Health Commission.
For those drugs already covered by the State medical insurance program, health departments will organize pricing bids or negotiations with pharmaceutical manufacturers for lower prices, Zeng said.
Since 2016, the commission and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security have both conducted drug price negotiations. Their joint efforts have led to the prices for 39 drugs falling 50 percent on average. Of those, 17 are cancer drugs.
According to the ministry, the lower prices negotiated for the cancer drugs saved patients 6.2 billion yuan ($979 million) as of April 18.
Chen Jinfu, head of the medical insurance department of the ministry, said the government will work to include more anti-neoplastic drugs — which help prevent cell division — into the country's medical insurance reimbursement catalog.
"Other drugs not covered by the medical insurance program might be included in State medical insurance if the drugmakers are willing to lower prices," he said.
Moreover, efforts have been made to accelerate review and approval procedures for new drugs, lower distribution costs and improve diagnoses in order to reduce the overall burden on patients and their families, according to Li Jinju, an official with the China Food and Drug Administration.
In 2014, the administration received 155 clinical test applications for cancer drugs, and 19 were approved. Last year, applications rose to 279, an increase of 80 percent over 2014, with 29 gaining approval.
The average duration for cancer drug clinical test approvals shrunk from 243 days in 2014 to 111 days last year, Li said. And the time it takes for drugs to reach the market was cut from 420 days in 2014 to 111 last year.
The State Cancer Center released the country's latest cancer data early this year. It shows that 3.8 million new cancer cases were diagnosed in 2017. Last year, an average of seven people per minute were diagnosed with cancer in China.
The prevention and treatment of cancer have received great attention from health authorities. A total of 703 research projects have been launched in recent years, with a total central government investment of nearly 2.6 billion yuan.
Admitting that the tariff cut on imported drugs may challenge China's domestic pharmaceutical industry by making foreign drugs more competitive, Liu Dengfeng of the commission said local producers were up to the task.
China's medical research and development have progressed in recent years, with the talent pool getting stronger and innovation booming, he said.
According to Zeng, domestic innovation of new cancer drugs will receive strong financial support in the future. Drugs in urgent demand and the production of generic drugs will be top priorities and will benefit from the new policies, he said.
"Some new drugs made in China are now undergoing clinical testing, and I believe that patients will soon see benefits from our own innovation over the next two years," Zeng said.
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