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Antibiotics in India UPSC NOTE

 What is fixed dose combination (FDC)

  • FDCs are combinations of one or more known drugs and can be useful in the treatment of some diseases since the combination can improve patient compliance

  • If a patient has to take three different medications for a particular treatment, she may forget to take one,  But if all three medications are combined into one tablet or one syrup, the chance of her forgetting to take one or two of the drugs is reduced

  • For diseases such as AIDS, it is well documented that FDCs have proven to be very useful in improving patient compliance.

  • Making FDCs, even though most consist of drugs with known safety and efficacy profile, is not an easy job. 

  • All drugs have side effects and when formulated together, there is a possibility that the active ingredient or even the excipients (inactive ingredients) may affect the way that each drug functions. 

  • For example, the drugs may interact in a way to reduce the therapeutic efficacy of each active ingredient, or, worse, the drugs may interact with each other to create a more toxic element, often called metabolites. 

  • This is why it is crucial that all FDCs go through a scientifically designed approval process where such interactions can be evaluated.

Problem of unapproved and banned FDC

  • Pharmaceutical companies in India use these FDCs to escape liability under multiple laws without much concern for public health. 

  • One such law is the Drugs (Prices Control) Order (DPCO), under which the government fixes the prices of individual drugs

  • Since drug combinations were traditionally not covered under the DPCO, the pharmaceutical industry decided that making FDCs provided an easy way to escape the remit of the DPCO.

  • Driven by this cold logic of the market, and not public health, the Indian pharmaceutical industry introduced an astounding variety of FDCs that lacked any medical rationale

  • There were two added advantages of adopting this strategy for the industry. 

  • The first, the fact that because of the bewildering variety of FDCs being sold in the market, there were no standards set by bodies such as the Indian Pharmacopoeia Commission for testing these drugs for quality of manufacture. 

  • When there are no standards recognised by the law, there is no question of manufacturing “not of standard quality” drugs. 

  • The pharmaceutical industry gets to provide its own standards in order for the government to test their drugs.

  • The second advantage of going down the FDC route is that it gives individual companies a reason to charge higher prices for their drugs.

  • When the market and the regulatory structure rewards these manufacturers of such pseudo-innovation rather than for discovering and developing true innovative medicines, this is what happens. 

  • These dubious FDCs can command higher prices

  • The FDC problem has been on the regulatory radar since 1978 when the first government committee studied the issue and admitted that we had a problem on our hands

  • At the time, there was no system under the colonial-era Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 to vet drugs for safety and efficacy prior to their sale in India. 

  • In 1982, Parliament changed the law to give the central government the power to “prohibit” the manufacture of specific drugs that lack therapeutic value or justification. 

  • Later in that decade, in 1988, the central government amended the rules to introduce a new requirement for manufacturers of all “new drugs”, including FDCs, to submit proof of safety and efficacy to the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI).

  • DCGI heads the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO). 

  • These amendments also made it clear that State drug controllers could not grant “manufacturing licences” for “new drugs” that are not approved for safety and efficacy by the DCGI.

Impact and solutions

  • Despite the law being crystal clear on the issue, State drug controllers have simply ignored the law to continue issuing manufacturing licences for FDCs not approved by the DCGI with impunity.

  • The manufacturers selling these FDCs that have not been approved by the DCGI can technically be prosecuted by the Central government for violating the law.

  • The Ministry of Health is playing a game of whack-a-mole by constantly invoking its powers under Section 26A to prohibit the manufacture of specific FDCs. 

  • It has issued 444 orders under this provision since 1983, banning mostly FDCs. 

  • Many of these orders have been embroiled in complex litigation, with the courts muddying the waters with inconsistent decisions.

  • The fact that these academics have discovered 239 unapproved FDCs being sold in 2020.

  • As they point out in their paper, unregulated FDCs may end up contributing to the AMR problem in India. 


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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: Antibiotics in India UPSC NOTE
Antibiotics in India UPSC NOTE
Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam
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