Pharma Marketing Practice: Is It Necessary In The Indian Market

By: Mr. Nikkhil K Masurkar, CEO, Entod Pharmaceuticals

Pharmaceutical marketing has long sparked debate within the healthcare industry, especially in emerging markets like India. With a population exceeding 1.4 billion and a rising demand for healthcare services, the significance of pharma marketing practices in our country has drawn considerable attention.

India stands as the world’s largest provider of generic drugs, with pharmaceutical exports totaling around $16 billion USD in the fiscal year 2024. Indian drugs constitute 20% of global generic drug exports by volume, with North America holding the largest share. The projected revenue for India’s pharmaceutical market in 2024 is estimated at US$12.46 billion, and by 2028, it is anticipated to grow annually at a rate of 6.33%, reaching a market volume of US$15.93 billion. This surge in demand for generic drugs positions India as a key player in the global pharmaceutical domain.

While some voice concerns that aggressive marketing tactics could lead to overprescribing and inflated healthcare expenses, others argue that strategic marketing is crucial for promoting treatment awareness and elevating patient outcomes.

The debate: pros and cons of pharmaceutical marketing

Pharmaceutical marketing plays a crucial role in educating healthcare professionals about new drugs and treatment options. By providing information about the efficacy, safety, and proper use of medications, marketing efforts can empower physicians to make informed decisions and improve patient care. Moreover, marketing activities such as medical conferences, continuing medical education programmes, and promotional materials contribute to the dissemination of medical knowledge and best practices.

However, at the same time, we must acknowledge the potential negative ramifications of pharmaceutical marketing. These may include overdiagnosis, overtreatment, and undue influence on prescribing patterns. Aggressive promotional tactics, such as offering gifts, incentives, and sponsoring events, may unduly sway healthcare professionals’ prescribing behaviour and undermine the integrity of medical practice.

Rapid growth and regulatory response

In recent years, the Indian pharmaceutical market has witnessed rapid growth, fuelled by factors such as increasing healthcare expenditure, rising chronic diseases, and a growing middle class with higher purchasing power. In this dynamic environment, pharmaceutical companies often face the challenge of effectively reaching healthcare professionals and consumers to promote their products while adhering to ethical standards.

In response to these challenges, regulatory authorities in India have implemented measures to enforce responsible pharmaceutical marketing practices. The Medical Council of India (MCI) and the Pharmaceuticals & Medical Devices Bureau of India (PMBI) have introduced guidelines governing interactions between pharmaceutical companies and healthcare professionals. These guidelines include restrictions on promotional activities and requirements for disclosing financial relationships. Additionally, industry associations like the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI) have adopted codes of conduct aimed at promoting ethical marketing practices and transparency.

Introduction of the UCPMP 2024

The Department of Pharmaceuticals introduced the Uniform Code for Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP) 2024 on March 13. This code sets guidelines for the use of terms like “safe” and “new” concerning drugs. It emphasises that medical representatives should not offer inducements or payments to gain access to healthcare professionals. The code aims to prevent freebies disguised as educational materials, but its effectiveness remains uncertain. Updated after a decade, the code extends accountability to medical devices and defines engagement parameters in Continuing Medical Education (CME) conferences.

The code strictly regulates pharmaceutical engagement with healthcare professionals, prohibiting cash payments, gifts, or other benefits. It bans promotional activities before a drug receives marketing approval and requires claims about a drug’s safety to be qualified. Moreover, the term “new” cannot describe drugs available for over a year in India. The UCPMP mandates stringent compliance, with associations required to establish Ethics Committees and dedicated portals for code enforcement and complaint submission.

Measures and moving forward

Despite the challenges and controversies surrounding pharmaceutical marketing, its role in the Indian market remains indispensable for both the industry’s sustained growth and the broader welfare of society.

Pharmaceutical companies shoulder a weighty responsibility to ensure that their marketing and branding efforts prioritise patient welfare, adhere to ethical standards, and uphold transparency. This responsibility spans the entire product lifecycle, from research and development to market introduction, and extends to how information is conveyed to healthcare professionals, patients, and the public. By striking a delicate balance between promoting products and upholding ethical standards, pharmaceutical companies can play an important role in advancing public health while fostering trust and credibility within the healthcare community.

Looking ahead, ongoing collaboration among industry stakeholders, regulatory authorities, and healthcare providers will be essential to ensure that pharmaceutical marketing practices align with the principles of patient-centered care and evidence-based medicine.

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