Doctors often get a lot of credit for saving lives, easing pain and improving the quality of patients' lives. However, the contributions of many others who are toiling day in and out behind the scenes often do not get recognition.
I am talking about drug innovators, scientists and researchers who inventively apply science for enhanced disease prevention and management, as well as the pharma companies, who by researching and bringing in the latest and the best are making it possible for doctors to use their skills to save the lives of patients. By delivering to us new and better treatment options for treating complex health conditions and modern diseases, they are performing an invaluable service. It is imperative that we acknowledge and recognize the contribution of innovative medicines that help physicians to choose a line of treatment on the merit of quality, outcomes and clinical data robustness.
For medical innovation to thrive and continue to meet patient needs, innovators need the assurance that research will be rewarded.
Last but not the least are the government officials and policymakers who support the quick transmission of world research and new technology to India of by proactively finding ways to cut red tapism.
They all need to be applauded and encouraged.
The cancer conundrum
Let us substantiate the case for medical innovation with the example of cancer. Scientists have been trying to find an absolute cure to cancer for a very long time. Some breakthroughs are happening now worldwide and it is imperative that we get those benefits to reach our country too, as soon as possible.
For example, scientists at Cambridge University have developed a new model of testing where they will categorize patients under five groups in order of severity (instead of the prevalent three). This can play a pivotal role in curing cancer and help the patients avoid unpleasant procedures they did not need. While this is still some time away from reaching the masses, thanks to the speedy permits by Indian authorities cancer patients in India, especially those suffering from skin and lung malignancies will finally have access to new biological drugs (manufactured/ extracted from living beings) that have set new standards in cancer care globally. While conventional cancer medicines aggressively target cancer cells and in the process may also damage the surrounding healthy cells, newer immunotherapies introduced by manufacturers help the body's immune system to identify the hazardous cancer cells and attack them.
The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI)'s assent for advanced cancer drugs—which are powerful new ways to mobilize patients' immune systems to fight advanced forms of cancers— to be made available in Indian markets, and the granting of waivers for clinical trials, are decisions to be lauded for sure.
The road ahead
New and more effective drugs have propelled a revolutionary change in healthcare. Globally and in India, scientific breakthroughs have allowed the medical community to deliver world-class patient outcomes. For this medical innovation to thrive and continue to meet patient needs, innovators need the assurance that research will be rewarded. This requires a strong, stable and predictable intellectual property (IP) environment that rewards medical innovation. At the same time, all stakeholders including the innovators, the policymakers and doctors need to act as partners to achieve a common goal driven by the patient need for efficacious and safe new drugs that help them lead better and more productive lives. While manufacturers innovate, the ecosystem should ensure that the benefit of the best quality healthcare innovations reaches the masses.
The DCGI's assent for advanced cancer drugs to be made available in Indian markets, and the granting of waivers for clinical trials, are decisions to be lauded.
We need to adopt a multi-sectoral and comprehensive approach to create proactive strategies to improve healthcare accessibility, quality and affordability. This mandates reforms in India's healthcare financing system, which continues to raise challenges of health inequity, inadequate availability and reach, unequal access and poor-quality and costly services. The primary focus should be on enhancing public spending and substantially reducing the burden of out-of-pocket expenditures on health. However, affordability should not mean compromising on the quality of care. It is essential to improve access not just to healthcare but also to innovative and quality medicines. Here, I would also like to draw attention to the lack of palliative cancer care facilities and professionals in our country, increasing the misery of terminally ill cancer patients, who are sometimes exploited by those driven by only commercial gains. Quality and compassionate care needs to be ensured for cancer patients.
The sustainable development goals of 2030 set by United Nations position Good Health and Well Being at No. 3 out of the 17 goals. The SDGs are very much in tune with the ages old adage, "Healthy body bears a healthy mind". Healthcare, being an important and sensitive subject around life and longevity, needs to be driven by patients' need for quality and backed by scientific due diligence. Every patient deserves access to optimum world-class healthcare, especially in an age where India is striving to become an attractive hub for medical tourism. It is time for all stakeholders to think as partners to embrace common objectives that has the patient at the centre.
Finally, I urge for predictability and clarity in an ecosystem that rewards medical innovations as the battles before us are huge and deadly.