Favorable policies increase access to medicines and spur innovation

Updated: Dec 5, 2019 China Daily Print
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China's favorable policies in accelerating drug access and encouraging innovation over the past few years have promoted the research and development of new medicines, helping build a healthy drug ecology in the country, a senior executive of Gilead Sciences Inc said.

The California-based biopharmaceutical firm got approval of seven innovative medicines from the National Medical Products Administration within two years-an unexpectedly good result for international biopharmaceutical firms.

"During the past three years, China experienced substantial changes in drug access, which greatly stimulated the R&D process of new medicines," said Rogers Luo, vice-president of Gilead and general manager of Gilead China.

He noted that badly needed medicines already approved overseas are now given the green light in China. They can get drug access first and submit clinical data later on, enabling patients to immediately get the much-needed drug in the first place.

"Once new medicines got the approval, the next step is medical insurance," he said.

On Nov 28, the National Healthcare Security Administration announced the new drug list included in China's national medical insurance catalog, and four of Gilead's innovative medicines were in the list, including an anti-AIDS drug, an anti-hepatitis B drug, and two anti-hepatitis C medicines.

"Through actively engaging in drug price negotiation, we hope to bring international innovative products to Chinese patients with lower prices, making them enjoy the fruit of government drug price negotiation, as well as the value of global innovative technology. In addition, Gilead will join efforts with related departments and social organizations to enhance the healthcare level of the Chinese public," Luo said.

Gilead is a major US biotechnology company focusing on the development of antiviral medicines effective in the treatment of the HIV, which causes AIDS, and hepatitis, a major liver disease. The company is based in Foster City, California.

Using the four medicines that have entered the national medical insurance as an example, Gilead will promote more products to enter the catalog to increase drug accessibility, and enable more patients in China to get access to good medicines, the company said.

A total of 70 new medicines will be included in the national medical insurance catalog with their prices slashed by an average of 60.7 percent, the NHSA said.

After the price reduction and medical insurance reimbursements, the financial burden on patients will be reduced by over 80 percent, said Xiong Xianjun, a senior NHSA official.

Chen Qiaoshan, a medical analyst at Beijing-based market consultancy Analysys, said: "The new medicines able to enter the national medical insurance catalog are recognized in terms of drug quality. In addition, the fact that they will be offered in a great amount demonstrated the strong productivity of the bid winners."

"We appreciate the efforts that the Chinese government has made these years in building a healthy drug ecology," Luo added.

He noted that the national centralized procurement pilot program launched in 2018 in four municipalities and seven local cities, better known as "4+7", is also a blessing for both biopharmaceutical companies and patients.

"To a large extent, the policy will change the pattern of China's drug market, in that it encourages innovation, enabling biopharmaceutical firms to focus on producing medicines that contain more R&D value. It benefits the public eventually, promoting the sustainability of the healthcare sector," Luo said.

Gilead said that in the future, it plans to increase its investment in China as the country is a major market for hepatitis, and the unmet demand is huge. It will even consider manufacturing its products in China locally.

"We are confident about the Chinese market," Luo said.

Data from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed that at this time, there are roughly 93 million people in China infected by hepatitis B virus, and more than 1 million new cases of viral hepatitis occur each year. China also spends more than any other country on the treatment of hepatitis.

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