May 17, 2020

Overcoming the challenge of optimizing drug pricing in emerging markets

4 min
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Written by Arnaud Grunwald,global pricing & market access, strategic market initiative executive Globally, healthcare costs are coming under close...

Written by Arnaud Grunwald, global pricing & market access, strategic market initiative executive


Globally, healthcare costs are coming under closer scrutiny than ever before. In European countries, Canada, Australia and even emerging markets, medical products, services and devices are increasingly competing for smaller healthcare budgets, as governments look to relieve economic pressure by imposing price controls and exploring ways to implement value-based pricing on a grand scale.

In the UK for example, the Government and pharmaceutical companies recently agreed a new five-year pricing deal, which took effect on 1 January 2014. This introduced a fixed limit on NHS spend on branded medicines for the first time ever, with any additional expenditure above this level paid for by industry.    

Although such agreements will have a major impact in mature healthcare markets, price controls are even more significant in emerging markets where pharmaceutical companies are currently targeting increased effort as sales slow down in the rest of the world.

China, for instance, which regularly conducts audits by the National Development and Reform Commission to set the upper-ceiling for patented and generic drugs reimbursed by the government, has apparently intensified its pricing audits. Although such audits - and resulting inevitable price cuts - are not unexpected, they clearly demonstrate how national payers in these newer healthcare markets are subjecting pharmaceutical companies and their pricing strategies to unprecedented microscopic examination.

Emerging markets remain attractive for pharmaceutical companies, due to their large, aging populations and governments’ promise to improve healthcare for their people. Latest forecasts show that the global pharmaceutical market will grow by 4.5 per cent a year on average to 2016, while emerging markets will experience nearly three times this level of growth, increasing by almost 12 per cent annually.

Yet there is a trade-off here, as any higher sales volumes secured by pharmaceutical companies in these emerging markets will be achieved at reduced margins. This is not necessarily bad news as any compromise which is recognised as balanced and fair creates a win-win-win for payers, patients and pharmaceutical companies alike.

The challenge of course is to arrive at the right balance. This is especially problematic, as many governments use national organisations such as the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in the UK to determine public reimbursement of drug therapies based on patient outcomes. Countries are increasingly using Health Technology Assessments (HTAs) in their reimbursement decisions, with healthcare payers increasingly demanding real-world evidence of value on pharmaceutical products.

And it doesn’t stop here. Added to this is the further complexity of international reference pricing (IRP), in which a product’s reimbursed price is determined by benchmarking that of the same product in other countries.

As a result of reference pricing, a price change in one country can dramatically lower the price government buyers are willing to pay in other countries. While it is common for emerging markets to reference developed markets, they are gradually changing their reference baskets to include lower-priced developed markets and other emerging markets as they look to strictly contain healthcare costs.

Previously, Mexico for example referenced developed markets only; today, by contrast, it includes such emerging markets across South America as Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Uruguay. Equally, whereas in the past Mexico did not consistently enforce its IRP rule when referencing European countries, this is now more consistently imposed since their reference basket is made of countries with a similar economic development status.

Even countries such as China that have yet to adopt IRP show signs that this may not be far off. This is not surprising perhaps, given the economic pressure on governments globally to cut healthcare budgets. The result of all this is that price erosion now has the potential to impact a pharmaceutical business across almost all its markets worldwide. And this is of even greater concern when 50 per cent of companies admit that they are under-equipped to enforce their global pricing strategies effectively and make sound global pricing decisions.

So how should they respond? Pharmaceutical companies can no longer focus solely on market share at a product level. Instead, they must view markets and products from both a global perspective and from that of each country’s overall budget, in order to influence purchasing policy so that reimbursement is commensurate with value.

Pharmaceutical companies must also take into account constraints such as local healthcare systems, epidemiology, affordability and distribution channels in order to better understand, anticipate and eventually mitigate price erosion. This is essential if they are to achieve long-term stability and success, by optimising access and profitability in each market as part of a balanced trade-off which is recognised as fair to all parties.

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Jun 18, 2021

Skin Analytics wins NHSX award for AI skin cancer tool 

2 min
Skin Analytics uses AI to detect skin cancer and will be deployed across the NHS to ease patient backlogs

An artificial intelligence-driven tool that identifies skin cancers has received an award from NHSX, the NHS England and Department of Health and Social Care's initiative to bring technology into the UK's national health system. 

NHSX has granted the Artificial Intelligence in Health and Care Award to DERM, an AI solution that can identify 11 types of skin lesion. 

Developed by Skin Analytics, DERM analyses images of skin lesions using algorithms. Within primary care, Skin Analytics will be used as an additional tool to help doctors with their decision making. 

In secondary care, it enables AI telehealth hubs to support dermatologists with triage, directing patients to the right next step. This will help speed up diagnosis, and patients with benign skin lesions can be identified earlier, redirecting them away from dermatology departments that are at full capacity due to the COVID-19 backlog. 

Cancer Research has called the impact of the pandemic on cancer services "devastating", with a 42% drop in the number of people starting cancer treatment after screening. 

DERM is already in use at University Hospitals Birmingham and Mid and South Essex Health & Care Partnership, where it has led to a significant reduction in unnecessary referrals to hospital.

Now NHSX have granted it the Phase 4 AI in Health and Care Award, making DERM available to clinicians across the country. Overall this award makes £140 million available over four years to accelerate the use of artificial intelligence technologies which meet the aims of the NHS Long Term Plan.

Dr Lucy Thomas, Consultant Dermatologist at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, said: “Skin Analytics’ receipt of this award is great news for the NHS and dermatology departments. It will allow us to gather real-world data to demonstrate the benefits of AI on patient pathways and workforce challenges. 

"Like many services, dermatology has severe backlogs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This award couldn't have come at a better time to aid recovery and give us more time with the patients most in need of our help.”

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