Beijing | A Chinese couple has been put on trial for allegedly selling low cost India-made cancer drugs, highlighting persistent calls for opening China’s pharma sector to cheaper Indian drugs. The couple in China’s Nanjing city in Jiangsu Province recently stood trial for selling cancer medication bought in India, official media reported.
Zhou Rongqiang, Judge of the local court, told state-run Global Times yesterday that the couple, Zhao Hongjiang and his wife, Ma Yalin, were accused of purchasing medicines from India, transporting them to China, and selling them online. Indian-made generic cancer drugs, often containing the same active ingredients as the patented medicines they are based on, sell at enormous discount compared with their patented counterparts, the report said.
The vast majority of these drugs are not approved for sale in China. Selling medicines produced overseas requires a certification by China’s drug watchdog. If not, the drugs are seen as fake, Zhou said. In the court, Zhao said that he was trying to save people’s lives, and that most of the drugs were brought for his friends instead for sale, local daily Modern Express reported. The case highlights India’s persistent calls for China to open up its markets for Indian pharma products which have been widely approved for use in various countries to make them available for its citizens as well as to address the trade imbalance between the two countries.
China says there are barriers but Indian pharmaceutical firms complain of lengthy procedures requiring years of testing for the drugs which have been approved in various markets abroad. Medicines in China mostly controlled by multinational markets are highly expensive making it extremely difficult for vast majority of Chinese to afford them. As a result number of Chinese traders are smuggling the Indian drugs into Chinese markets.
India says the opening of pharma sector to it will also address the trade imbalance which is averaging over USD 35 billion every year. The bilateral trade volume amounts to USD 65.47 billion last year with balance of trade heavily tilted in favour of China. Chinese President Xi Jinping assured to address the issue during his visit to India in September this year. Zhou said that Zhao was sent to work in India in 2010, where he would often buy cancer medication for friends. Smelling a business opportunity, Zhao found local pharmaceutical agents willing to sell him drugs at marked-down prices and asked the agents to mail them to China.
They sold the medicines for over 320,000 yuan (USD 52,000) and made 100,000 yuan in profit, Zhou said. Local police arrested the couple in their house on July 4 after receiving a tip-off, discovering 31 boxes of generic drugs imported from India. The local procuratorate said that the medicine was not registered, and that in selling them Zhao and Ma broke the law, an offense punishable by a fine and up to three years in jail. Prosecutors on the case have requested sentences of a year and a half for both Zhao and Ma, with the possibility of reprieve. The court is yet to rule in the case, the Global Times report said.
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