Access to medicines a problem in India: Annaswamy Vaideesh, GSK India MD

Glaxo SmithKline’s India managing director and vice-president of the company’s South Asia business Anna Swamy Vaideesh, who’s participating in the India UK Tech Summit, tells Veena Mani that the real problem is not capping of drug prices, but in the method adopted in revising prices. He says the US will remain an important market even if the Department of Justice decides to investigate more companies. Edited excerpts:
We speak at a time when the government is planning to revamp the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority. What are your thoughts on capping of drug prices?
Price capping is required in a market like India. I don’t have a problem with that. The problem lies in the way in which it is being done. A drug may be available at Rs 10. The same drug might be available at higher prices as well. At Rs 10, that person who cannot afford to pay a hefty price can buy the drug. In that case, why bring the cost of drug manufactured by everyone to one rate?
Won’t the availability of affordable medicines come down?
No, the problem in India is not about quantity or availability. It is the reach or the access to medicines that is a problem. Look at the Jan Aushadhi stores. There are a number of these stores, but one needs the mechanism to get the prescription collected and reach the medicine to the consumer. As we know, that awareness is minimal in India.
What expansion plans do you have for India?
We’ve invested Rs 1,000 crore in building a greenfield setup in Vemgal. This will become operational by the first quarter of FY18. We’ll be manufacturing about three drugs there.
The sentiment in the US is that affordable medicines should be available. The Department of Justice in the US has pulled up Sun Pharmaceutical and Dr Reddy’s Laboratories. Given all these factors, will the industry’s focus on the US market go down? 
Not at all. The US will still remain one of our main markets. In India, we sell volumes. Revenues as compared to the volumes sold are not very high. Even if companies are investigated by the Department of Justice and have to pay a penalty, they will earn 10 times as much as what they earn here.
What role does the Indian market play for GSK? 
Our India plan is generally for the long run. India will not yield immediate results. In the longer run, India is a good market.
What are your thoughts on investing in biologics, especially as return on investment is not assured in that segment? 
It’s true that there’s uncertainty in biologics. However, since we focus on specialised therapies we can afford to concentrate on biologics. We will invest in biologics. 

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