There is good news for diabetic patients in India. The patent for Vildagliptin, a leading drug to treat diabetes has expired, opening doors for several companies to launch generic versions. Going by the fatigue doctors experience sending away medical representatives who pitch for their version of the drug at prices less than half of what is currently in the market, it is apparent that there are many rushing in.
"As Indian pharma companies get ready to launch the branded generic version of Vildagliptin, we might see over 50 new brands launched over the next few days in the Rs 800 core Vildagliptin market in India (in terms of annual sales)," says Hari Natarajan, who has tracked Indian pharma retail sales for years and is the founder and managing director of Pronto Consult, an independent consulting company specialising in doctor perception studies and market Insights in India and Middle East.
Seeing this space "heat up," he says there are currently four brands in the Indian market today. These include that of innovator Novartis and brands licenced by it. He says, "The current price is around Rs 45 per day therapy (two tablets). Even if the price reduces by 50 per cent, which is expected, there would be significant savings for patients." Companies are talking of a significant price cut. Intas Pharmaceuticals, according to a senior official in the company, will hit the market today with two versions - one just Vildagliptin and another in combination with Metformin. They are to be priced at half of the current market price.
Why this interest in Vildagliptin?
"Among gliptins, doctors generally tend to prefer drugs that contain Sitagliptin, Vildagliptin or Linagliptin. Of these, Vildagliptin is the first to go off patent tonight and therefore there is so much interest among pharma companies," says Dr V Mohan, diabetologist and co-founder of Dr Mohan's Diabetes Specialities Centre. He says doctors tend to prefer prescribing this either solo or in combination with metformin because this class of drugs is known to have limited side effects. Analysts are not sure how this race to launch generic versions by several companies at one go is going to ensure they earn decent returns.
After all, it becomes a highly competitive and commoditised space. Some argue that companies that had the licence from the innovator earlier and have bought the brand now may still want to ride on the back of a brand that resonates with the doctor and hope for a headstart.
Other than pointing out the importance patents play in the pursuit of innovative drug discovery, the Novartis spokesperson said: "Generics are a normal step in a drug's life-cycle management after the compound patent has expired. As a global leader, Novartis understands and recognizes the contribution of generics. When patents expire, high-quality generics help lower overall cost of healthcare. We will continue to serve people living with diabetes through the imported innovator molecule in India, Galvus."