SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China will add three dozen new drugs to a list of medicines covered by basic insurance schemes after global pharmaceutical firms agreed to slash prices of blockbuster treatments for cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security in a statement on Wednesday said it had agreed to add 36 drugs to the National Reimbursable Drugs List (NRDL) in return for an average 44 percent price cut against last year's retail prices.
The government is looking to juggle access to medicines with managing public healthcare spending. High drug costs and lack of access to current treatments is a flashpoint in China, where patients often resort to grey markets for cheaper medicine.
The ministry updated the NRDL after an eight year hiatus in February, when it said it was still negotiating around 45 expensive medicines with high clinical value.
On Wednesday, it said the agreed price cuts were as much as 70 percent - reflecting drugmakers' desire to get their products onto state insurance schemes, which helps boost sales volumes.
"After the negotiations, the majority of the imported medicines will be cheaper than in surrounding international markets, greatly reducing the financial burden on Chinese patients from healthcare costs," the ministry said.
The additions to the list include a number of major cancer drugs such as Roche Holding AG's Herceptin, Avastin and MabThera, Celgene Corp's Revlimid, Johnson & Johnson's Zytiga and Novartis AG's Afinitor.
Also included are AstraZeneca PLC's heart treatment Brilinta and Novo Nordisk A/S' diabetes injection Victoza.
The ministry said of the 36 drugs added, 31 were "Western" treatments - including 15 for cancer - and five were traditional Chinese medicines (TCM).
Updating the list represents a fillip for pharmaceutical firms in the world's second-largest drug market, where high costs put many new drugs out of patients' reach.
Reporting by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Christopher Cushing