Pharma firms find oncology lucrative

Mumbai, Aug 4 | Updated: Aug 5 2005, 05:31am hrs
Lured by a niche, high priced market for cancer drugs, at least five pharmaceutical companies, Indian as well as multinational, are eyeing the Rs 230 crore oncology segment. While some of these companies are focusing on R&D of cancer drugs, others are planning drug launches soon. Therapy costs for cancer range from Rs 3,000 to a lakh of rupees.

Sometimes, cancer drugs can be as expensive as Rs 6,000 to Rs 8,000 per dose. Although such high prices hit the patients hard, it is a huge incentive for pharma companies to launch their products. While Nicholas Piramals anti-cancer molecule has entered the clinical trials stage in Canada, Dr Reddys cancer molecule is still in the laboratory research phase. Zydus Cadila launched its Fludarabine (Fludara Oral) in June 2005. Swiss firm Roche plans to launch its cancer drug Avastin in India soon. Sources said that Bristol Myers Squibb is also likely to launch an oncology product here. The oncology segment in India has been growing slowly, but it is still an important market for companies, owing to the high product prices. This is since cancer is a life threatening disease, and doctors and patients would go for a high priced drug if essential. At present, there are eight major players in the Indian oncology segment. Among domestic companies, the major players are Dabur Pharma, Dr Reddys Labs, VHB Life Sciences and Zydus Cadila. Prominent players among MNCs are GlaxoSmithine (GSK), Pharmacia and Astra Zeneca.

The incidence of cancer is increasing every year as more and more people are exposed to carcinogenic factors, said Mahesh Sawant, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan. This represents a growing market with also novel biotechnology making their presence felt. Research is going on in companies like Dr Reddys and Wockhardt for launching biopharmaceuticals used in treatment of cancer, he added. Products based on monoclonal antibodies, which are biological molecules, will become more popular among cancer drugs, analysts feel. Although these are high priced drugs, side effects from them will be less, as they are more receptor oriented.