Last week, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairperson and Managing Director of Biocon made an announcement offering recombinant human insulin (rh-Insulin) at less than 10 US cents per day in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). This is almost 70 percent cheaper than the existing prices.
The offer is for vials sourced by the government directly from Biocon, assuming an insulin dosage of 40 IU per day.
Currently, the blended median patient prices in LMICs are $9 per 10 ml vial translating to 36 US cents per day. The current US list price in retail is over $5 cents per day.
LMIC contribute to 80 percent of the global disease burden.
The announcement was made at a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) side meeting on innovation and universal health access convened by UNAIDS Health Innovation Exchange. The announcement was made in the presence of the President of Ethiopia, the First Lady of Namibia, Health Ministers from Botswana and Malawi, and representatives from the private sector and development agencies.
Why is this important?
It comes at a time when we are witnessing an explosion of non-communicable diseases like diabetes. People have to pop-up pills and take insulin shots every day throughout their lives. Given the lifestyle, food and environmental changes, diabetes is not a rich man's disease anymore.
Here, the cost of medicines becomes a major factor and governments all over the world are grappling to make drugs affordable.
India played a vital role in making vaccines, life-saving HIV medications, TB and Malaria drugs affordable globally.
The story of Cipla's chairman Yusuf Hamied offering cocktail of AIDS drugs for $1 to Doctors Without Borders in 2001 is legendary.
Now, prices of antiretroviral (ARV) drug combinations have come down to a few cents to a dollar, saving lives of millions infected by HIV.
It is time that India takes a similar leadership role in non-communicable diseases.
Biocon, having sold over two billion doses of human insulin globally, is best suited to play this role.
What is at stake for Biocon?
Mazumdar-Shaw has hit two birds in one shot. While addressing the affordability of human insulin, the move is also expected to bring huge volumes for Biocon.
The company earlier had issues like capacity constraints. With Malaysian insulin facility on board, this was largely resolved.
Large volumes would help the company to utilise its capacities more efficiently, give room to lower prices, without compromising on margins.
It needs to be seen whether Mazumdar-Shaw's announcement will force other human insulin manufacturers to follow the suit.