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No tariffs on targeted cancer drugs will reduce the price pain for patients

China Daily | Updated: 2018-03-22 07:07

Premier Li Keqiang promises zero tariff rates for targeted cancer drugs at a news conference after the two sessions in Beijing on Tuesday. Thepaper.cn comments:

It is estimated more than 2 million people die of cancer in China each year. If there are zero tariffs, the retail price of the imported lifesaving drugs used in targeted cancer therapies will drop markedly. Their high prices have resulted in a large number of cancer patients exhausting their savings to extend their lives for a short time.

Some imported targeted cancer therapies can cost a patient as much as 10,000 yuan ($1,579) a dose as they are not covered by the medical insurance system. The high prices mean many patients have to give up their treatment.

More and more patients have turned to buying medicines from India through various channels as the prices are much lower, or to generic drugs that are lower in both price and efficiency. They then take the medicines at home without professional instruction and monitoring, further risking their health.

Aside from the tariffs, the high retail price of imported drugs in China is also pushed up by agents' fees, value-added tax, and high basic prices, which stem from the super-national treatment that some foreign medicines have been enjoying in the drug procurement of public hospitals, even if some of their patent protections have expired.

The pledge to end the tariffs on targeted cancer therapies indicates that the government recognizes they are special goods concerning people's welfare. But even without the tariffs, there still remains considerable room to squeeze the profit links between customs and patients to further bring down the prices of the drugs.

That the government has to open doors to imported drugs to save people's lives should also ring alarm bells for domestic pharmaceutical companies, especially the State-owned ones, as they have no reasons to sit idle, and are obliged to strengthen their research into these badly needed medicines and try their best to acquire the ability of producing them as early as possible.

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