Innovative drugmakers will have observed with concern plans being put in place by the Indian government to revoke patents and issue compulsory licences on another three cancer drugs - Roche's Herceptin and Bristol-Myers Squibb's Sprycel and Ixempra.

Herceptin (trastuzumab) is the Swiss major's blockbuster for breast cancer), while Ixempra (ixabepilone) is a breast cancer chemotherapy and Sprycel (dasatinib) is for leukaemia. The Business Standard newspaper reported the Indian government's plan and noted that the drugs cost between$3,000-$4,500 for a month's treatment, figures which supporters of the CLs are simply not affordable for the vast majority of the country's population.

India granted its first-ever CL in March 2012, a move which allowed Natco Pharma to manufacture its version of Bayer's patent-protected liver and kidney cancer drug Nexavar (sorafenib). That move led to a 97% price reduction.

The newspaper quoted YK Sapru, chairman of the Cancer Patients Aid Association as saying that "giving a CL for a few more anti-cancer drugs is a very good move, especially for Herceptin, which was required by a large number of breast cancer patients, who were dying because the drug was not affordable". Kalyani Menon-Sen, campaign coordinator for the Campaign for Affordable Trastuzumab advocacy group based in New Delhi, said in a statement that "drug companies are holding our health hostage to their greed for profits. Roche should not be allowed to get away with such a predatory pricing policy".

However, Ranjit Shahani, president of the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India, told Business Standard that "issuing CLs is a matter of concern". He noted that there are access programmes in place by multinational pharma firms "which, very often, bring down the prices significantly".

Mr Shahani gave the example of Gleevec/Glivec (imatinib mesylate), Novartis' drug for chronic myeloid leukaemia and other cancers, which is at the centre of a high-profile case that involves the company's legal challenge against India's patent laws. He said Glivec was given free for 16,000 patients in India, covering about 95% of the patients on the drug.

He went on to say that "there has to be an interactive dialogue between the government and multinational pharma companies regarding the price difference".