In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a new wave of price cuts has been agreed between the Ministry of Health and the pharmaceutical industry, under which the prices of 115 drug products will drop from next January 1.

These new cuts follow an earlier agreement this year which reduced the prices of 565 innovative new drugs by up to 15% from September 1.

Announcing the latest wave of reductions, Dr Amin Hussein Al Amiri, assistant undersecretary for medical practices and licensing at the Ministry, said on November 13 that the price cuts had been agreed under the Ministry's strategic partnerships with the pharmaceutical sector. These partnerships "have positive impacts on our relationships and support chronic disease patients," he said.

Dr Al Amiri added that the Ministry is "very keen to provide the best new drugs and adequate treatment for different diseases, especially chronic diseases such as diabetes," and that it would ensure the registration and availability of these treatments "on condition they match the required registration and pricing conditions."

The national drugs budget of the UAE has doubled, from 40.8 million dirhams in 2010 to 81.6 million dirhams this year, and the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry reported recently that imports of pharmaceutical products into the UAE had risen from 800 million dirhams in 2003 to 3 billion dirhams in 2010.

Moreover, a survey last year found that drug prices in the UAE were the highest among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations - the other members are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia - and late last month the drug pricing committee of the GCC's council of health ministers announced plans to unify prices across the GCC through the establishment of a new drug pricing unit.

Profit margins on drugs imported into GCC member states should not exceed 45%, according to the health ministers' proposal, while Dr Al Amiri, who is a member of the GCC drug pricing committee, said that setting up the new mechanism with a transparent pricing list would "significantly ease the issues related to higher costs of medicines in the regional markets."

In the first phase of the initiative, the prices of innovative medicines would be unified after a review of the treatment groups, and the regional panel would also approve the pricing lists of all GCC member countries, in line with each nation's existing rules. 

The new price lists will have to be approved by the GCC health ministers' council, said Dr Al Amiri, adding: "it is intended to decrease the exaggerated prices of several medicines."

The committee had already examined the profit margins and found "big differences" between them among the various nations, he noted.