India's Supreme Court has told the central government that medicine prices are already too high and should not go up any further.

"Bring [medicine pricing] down, don't escalate it in the name of policy," the judges told Ministers, during a hearing on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) brought against the government's proposed new National Pharmaceuticals Pricing Policy.

The PIL has been brought by the All-India Drug Action Network (AIDAN) and others. They claim that implementation of the new policy, which seeks to separate drugs' ceiling prices from their bulk manufacturing costs, would increase the prices of essential drugs, making them unaffordable for many people.

Justice JS Singhvi commented that the process of obtaining medicines had become "very mechanical," with the doctor prescribing them and the patient buying them and then claiming reimbursement, and that this had become "insensitive” to the concerns of many people.

In an affidavit, the Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals told the court that the new policy would bring all 348 medicines now included on the new National List of Essential Medicines under price control, plus some associated products, compared with just 74 bulk drugs which are currently controlled.

Government spokesmen also told the Supreme Court that the new policy would not be notified until Ministers had taken a decision on it, in about three months time, and that the government is seeking comments on the policy until November 30.

The Justices adjourned the hearing until January 17.

- Meantime, new research shows that the number of new drug products launched in India fell 62.5% year-on-year during the nine months ending September 30.

Brand launches, which had been averaging 4,000 a year over the last four years, have dropped to 1,400-1,500 this year, with most Indian drugmakers reporting a decline of up to 90%, according to data from IMS and HSBC reported by IHS Global Insight.

The proposed new pricing regime is suggested as one reason for the decline, making India a less attractive market for multinational drugmakers, but the report also says that further contributory factors include reduced pipelines, increased competition, patent curbs, market uncertainty over Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and higher costs.