Govt to set up pharma dept

Amid tough price regulation and hectic discussions to finalise a new drug pricing policy by the department of chemicals and petrochemicals, the government has decided to carve out a new department of pharmaceuticals from it. The proposed new department will function as a new entity under the ministry of chemicals and fertilizers along with the other two departments governing fertilizers and chemicals and petrochemicals. However, the future of drug price regulator National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) that has been enforcing a strict check on annual price rises and other price violations, is yet to be decided. A committee of secretaries will decide on April 30 whether NPPA needs to be subsumed into the new department or should continue as an autonomous body, it is understood. Merging the regulator with the department, might go against the principle of separation of powers as the same entity would do policy-making, policing and be a player in the industry through state-run companies like Hindustan Antibiotics. Chemicals and fertilizers minister Ram Vilas Paswan would head the new department. The proposed department will bring together the functions of seven other departments that deal with different aspects of the pharmaceutical industry. While the ministry of environment and forests covers areas of clinical trials on animals, the ministry of science and technology decides which drug research project of a company is to be funded. The WTO-related issues in pharmaceuticals are handled by the department of commerce, while negotiations at the World Intellectual Property Organization is with the department of industrial policy and promotion in the commerce and industry ministry. Regulating the quality of medicines, which is presently with the health ministry, would, however, continue with it. Sources said the idea, sanctioned by the cabinet secretariat, is to focus the government’s attention on the sunrise sector, the way it did on IT earlier by creating a separate administrative entity for that sector. The department of IT, which once had the status of a stand alone ministry, is now part of the ministry of communication and information technology. The proposal for a separate department for pharmaceuticals came from CPM MP Dr Sujan Chakraborty, who argued that a stand alone department was essential to exploit the potential of the sector.

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