New Delhi: A report by the parliamentary standing committee for health and family welfare, which looked at the functioning of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO), reveals that 33 new medicines were approved by the country’s highest office on drugs between January 2008 and October 2010, without the medicines undergoing human trials.
In a separate scrutiny of 39 randomly picked drugs in India, the committee found that in the case of 11 drugs, mandatory phase-III clinical trials were not conducted. In the case of two drugs, trials were conducted only on 21 and 46 patients, as against the stipulated 100. In one case, trials were conducted at just two hospitals as against legal requirement of three-four sites.
The union health ministry explained that as per the rules, the DCGI (Drug Controller General of India) has the power to approve drugs without clinical trials in “public interest”.
The committee, however, said, “No explanation is available as to what constitutes public interest. How can approvals given to foreign drugs without testing on Indians be in public interest?” It added, “Such irregular approvals spare drug producers the cost and efforts but put Indian patients at risk. This cannot be in public interest by any stretch of imagination.” [Source: ToI]
Read the full report
An excerpt of the report:
7.14 On scrutiny of 39 drugs on which information was available, the Committee found the following shortcomings:
• In the case of 11 drugs (28%) Phase III clinical trials mandated by Rules were not conducted. These drugs are i, Everolimus (Novartis), ii. Colistimethate (Cipla), iii. Exemestane (Pharmacia), iv. Buclizine (UCB), v. Pemetrexid (Eli Lilly), vi. Aliskiren (Novartis), vii. Pentosan (West Coast), viii. Ambrisentan (GlaxoSmithKline), ix. Ademetionine (Akums), x. Pirfenidone (Cipla), and xi. FDC of Pregabalin, Methylcobolamine, Alpha Lipoic Acid, Pyridoxine & Folic Acid (Theon);
• In the case of 2 drugs (Dronedarone of Sanofi and Aliskiran of Novartis), clinical trials were conducted on just 21 and 46 patients respectively as against the statutory requirement of at least 100 patients;
• In one case (Irsogladine of Macleods), trials were conducted at just two hospitals as against legal requirement of 3-4 sites;
• In the case of 4 drugs (10%) (Everolimus of Novartis; Buclizine of UCB; Pemetexid of Eli Lilly and FDC of Pregabalin with other agents), not only mandatory Phase III clinical trials were not conducted but even the opinion of experts was not sought. The decision to approve these drugs was taken solely by the non-medical staff of CDSCO on their own.
• Of the cases scrutinized, there were 13 drugs (33%) which did not have permission for sale in any of the major developed countries (United States, Canada, Britain, European Union nations and Australia). None of these drugs have any special or specific relevance to the medical needs of India. These drugs are: i. Buclizine for appetite stimulation (UCB); ii. Nimesulide injection (Panacea); iii. Doxofylline (Mars) iv. FDC of Nimesulide with Levocetirizine (Panacea); v. FDC of Pregabalin with other agents (Theon); vi. FDC of Tolperisone with Paracetamol (Themis); vii. FDC of Etodolac with 28 Paracetamol (FDC); viii. FDC of Aceclofenac with Thiocolchicoside (Ravenbhel); ix. FDC of Ofloxacin with Ornidazole (Venus), x. FDC of Aceclofenac with Drotaverine (Themis); xi. FDC of Glucosamine with Ibuprofen (Centaur); xii. FDC of Diclofenac with Serratiopeptidase (Emcure) and xiii. FDC of Gemifloxacin with Ambroxol (Hetero).
• In the case of 25 drugs (64%), opinion of medically qualified experts was not obtained before approval.
• In those cases (14 out of 39 drugs), where expert opinion was sought, the number of experts consulted was generally 3 to 4, though in isolated cases the number was more. In a country where some 700,000 doctors of modern medicine are in practice such a miniscule number of opinions are hardly adequate to get diverse views and come to a well considered rational decision apart from the possibility of manipulation by interested parties. As against this, to review just the dose of popular pain-killer paracetamol, the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) constituted a panel of 37 experts drawn from all over the country. After extensive debate 20 members sought ban on the combination of paracetamol with narcotics (17 opposed), 24 members sought reduction of dose from 500mg to 325mg (13 opposed) and 26 members advised to make high dose (1000mg) formulation a prescription only medicine (11 opposed). The voting pattern shows independent application of mind by each member. The opinions and decisions are in public domain (website of USFDA) so that anyone is free to scrutinize, offer comments and give suggestions. In India, every discussion and document is confidential away from public scrutiny. This matter needs to be reviewed to ensure safety of patients, fair play, transparency and accountability.
7.19 In cases where foreign drugs were approved without clinical trials in the country, the Ministry offered the following explanation: “Most of the drugs are approved in other countries based on multinational clinical trials…. on various ethnic/racial populations” implying that Indians would be included and hence conducting trials in India was not necessary. However, this presumptive remark is not accompanied by 30 any evidence. The interest is in those ethnicities that live in India, not Slavs, Caucasians, Hispanics and Negroes. The information in the Status Note on the very first drug of a total of 31 in the list of new drugs permitted in “public interest” without clinical trials, daptomycin, shows that pre-approval studies conducted by the American innovator recruited just 558 patients in United States, South Africa, Europe, Australia and Israel. There is absolutely no evidence of major ethnic groups of India being enrolled in these small trials.
7.20 It would appear that the intention of those who framed the Act and Rules was to leave a small door ajar for entry of new drugs without undergoing trials in serious emergency situations such as epidemic of a new hitherto unknown disease (e.g. SAARS, Bird Flu or Swine flu) where there may not be time enough to test new drugs and there is no alternative but to take calculated risk. None of the 33 drugs fall in this category of emergency treatments. Besides many drugs were launched in overseas markets years ago with ample time to conduct trials in India. The following are some examples:
• Daptomycin (Cubicin) of Novartis was launched overseas on 13-9-2003 and approved in India on 28-1-2008 after a gap of over four years. There was no tearing hurry to approve the drug without trials.
• Pemetrexed (Alimta) of Eli Lilly was approved on 5-2-2004 in the United States. After a gap of more than two years, it was approved by DCGI on 28-6-2006 without trials. There was more than adequate time to conduct Phase III trials in India and yet undue favour was shown to the manufacturer.
• Raltegravir (Isentress) of Merk Sharp and Dhome was launched abroad on 12-10-2007 and approved in India on 27-01-2010 without conducting clinical trials even though there was adequate time to conduct mandatory clinical trials.