Stronger approach needed to make cancer treatment accessible & affordable

Creating awareness to prevention and early detection will be critical to a successful cancer care structure in the country, writes Praveen Bose

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About Author: Mr Praveen Bose is the Senior Vice President and Head of Sales and Marketing at Sayre Therapeutics. Prior to this, Praveen has been working at Biocon for a decade and his last assignment was as Senior Director-Head of Oncology and Immunology business for India and SAARC.


The increasing number of cancer cases in India has created a need for new development and trends in the field of oncology drugs and treatment. There is a definite gap that largely still needs to be bridged. However, the access to global drugs, diagnostics tests and therapy options have increased in the country over the past one decade.

Globally, cancer is also responsible for almost one out of six deaths. More than 14 million people develop cancer every year, revealed a statistics and it is projected to rise to at least 21 million by 2030. According to a report by Indian Council of Medical Research, there will be 17.3 lakh (1.7 million) new cases of cancer in India with breast, cervical and lung cancers being the most prominent by 2020.

There is an urgent need of access to effective and affordable anticancer medications in India. Both the government and the oncology industry players need to look for means to make global trends in cancer therapy available to this part of the world.  This can be done by improving regulations, bringing in world class research based drugs, diagnostics and devices and by making the whole spectrum of treatment options affordable to the Indian population

New techniques being adopted for the treatment of cancer

With the increased noise level in the social and channel media as well as information explosion through the internet, there has been a gradual increase in the understanding about the disease among the general population at large. The increasing number of healthcare providers bringing in the latest treatment modalities and machineries to the Indian patients over the past few years have been a big step in bridging the gap in the access to some extent. Although we still are just about scratching the surface of possibilities, but this seems to be a good start.

Advanced drugs– The Special Access Programs run by a few of the global organizations as well as some Indian Industry service providers have been helping some of the patients to get access to a few of the otherwise not available medicines in India. Researchers in the country have a lot to offer in this regard through incremental innovation. Finding safer and better delivery mechanisms for the existing therapy options will be a significant contribution

New targets being focused- As there are newer and newer pathways of cancer formation being identified day by day, focus is now more on targeting them through specific molecules designed for specific pathways or receptors. Different ethnic patient groups are being focused to make treatments more effective. Government and industry partnership through funding research on these parameters in India is much needed given the patient load our country has.  

Genetic level test –  Genetic tests are available nowadays to detect some of the cancer types which are hereditary in nature. It also helps people to take the necessary steps to save future generation from falling prey to the deadly disease. Companion diagnostics suggesting personalized medicines for patients are also on the offer now from global organizations. Cost of these tests are still on the higher side for Indian patients considering the cost of treatment.

Diagnostic methods– There are novel diagnostic tools being available now which  go a long way to help in easing treatment options. The advancement in diagnostic methods helps in diagnosis of the specific mutation and the risk the patient is suffering.

This is a significant development in making the cancer biopsy procedures lesser and lesser invasive as well as easier for future references. Helps in monitoring the disease for any signs of remission post-surgery or other treatment modalities as well. Liquid Biopsies have been able to considerably reduce the agony of oncology sample collection both for the patients as well as the clinicians.

“There is an urgent need of fast track approvals and standardization of drug quality in the country”

Challenges in making available the best drugs in country

Drug development is a complex and lengthy process that requires huge investment of resources and time. The levels and the phases of drug approval is a time-consuming process which impacts the development and availability of these new drugs. A more focused concerted effort from the regulators and the government can address the availability and access concerns of the Indian patients.

The unawareness about risk factors, need for consulting the relevant specialists, advanced treatment modalities etc are still a concern. People need to be educated on the importance of healthy lifestyle, early diagnosis, and common symptoms of cancer. Prevention or early detection are a definite welcome than a late realization.

There is an urgent need of fast track approvals and standardization of drug quality in the country. A favorable consideration on the patent protection, safety net to researchers and industry partners to prevent legal battles between local firms, MNCs and civil rights groups is required. Better coordination, accountability and transparency in functioning among different ministries and bodies concerned with drug regulation will help get the process streamlined. Unfavorable revisions of regulations in local clinical trials of drugs in India will cause delay in getting much needed drugs at faster pace.

The growing need to establish greater value in health care combined with a projected shortage of workforce among clinical oncologists and nurses by 2020, suggests that cancer prevention efforts will need to be specifically targeted towards improving healthcare outcomes reducing healthcare costs.

Focus on cancer care within health systems can make a big difference

There are few initiatives by the government to provide affordable cancer drugs to the poor people. One such scheme is called AMRIT Affordable Medicines and Reliable Implants for Treatment (AMRIT). The pharmacy which has been set up at AIIMS aims to provide drugs at highly discounted rates. Another such initiative is Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana’, it is a campaign launched by the Department of Pharmaceuticals to provide quality medicines at affordable prices to the masses. It has been set up to provide generic drugs, which are available at lesser prices but are equivalent in quality and efficacy as expensive branded drugs. Many of the state governments have special programs like “ Arogyashree” which provides the cancer medicines free of cost to the eligible patients. Millions of patients are being benefitted by these initiatives.

With the increased noise level in the social and channel media as well as information explosion through the internet, there has been a gradual increase in the understanding about the disease among the general population at large.

Moreover, the factor that should be considered to make cancer treatment accessible in India is giving priority to the proven treatment options at a faster pace. The efforts to lower the cost of treatment and the drugs to make cancer treatment affordable for all classes in India will act as a catalyst to the growth of oncology treatment. Creating awareness to prevention and early detection will be critical to a successful cancer care structure in the country.

Affordability and access to the advanced oncology treatment options and drugs are the need of the hour. Government stakeholders along with private healthcare providers and medical organizations should come forward to create better awareness on cancer. Diagnosis if done at the early stage can help combat the disease and can reduce the disease burden both on the doctor as well as the patient.

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