Pharma pricing authority goes hi-tech

New Delhi, Apr 25 | Updated: Apr 28 2007, 08:27am hrs
For a quicker response against cases of overcharging by drug companies, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), will be providing its drug inspectors swanky palm-held devices which could be used to scan vital information on drug packs. The scanned information would then be sent to the NPPA for immediate action.

The regulator has asked the National Informatics Centre (NIC) in the department of information technology to provide palm-held devices for a pilot project. Initially, the devices will be given to drug inspectors in a few metros for a feasibility study and subsequently the project will be implemented on a larger scale. The project is likely to be commissioned in the next 5-6 months.

NIC provides network backbone and e-governance support to the central government, state governments, UT administrations, districts and other government bodies. It assists in implementing information technology projects.

The idea is to cut down on lengthy delays in procuring specific information that is required to take action against the offenders. Complaints and subsequent correspondences, in some cases, take more than six months. Often, by the time the required information arrives, a new batch of drugs hits the market, a source in the chemicals department told FE.

With palmtops, the scanned items would be sent electronically and the regulator would be in a position to catch hold of the company that violates NPPA's price guidelines. Currently, 74 bulk drugs come under price ceiling and the regulator fixes prices if one or more of those bulk drugs are used in the medicine.

As on date, the penalties on drug companies--both domestic and multinational--add up to Rs 1,155 crore. NPPA, so far, has recovered only about Rs 100 crore where the companies have deposited the amount, while drug companies have moved court in 69 cases.

Recently, Mumbai-based Cipla was asked to deposit Rs 748.27 crore by NPPA for overpricing five drugs. The fine included the overcharged amount of Rs 360.75 crore slapped on the company in 2003, in addition to the interest during this period. Cipla was found overcharging for active ingredients ciprofloxacin, cloxacillin, doxycycline, glipizide, norfloxacin, salbutamol, and theopylline.