A wave of “affordable” generic medicine ventures is changing the dynamic retail pharmaceutical landscape, and silently.

There’s Generic Aadhaar, Dawaa Dost and Davaindia in the privately-run space, and then there’s the Government-run Jan Aushadhi (JA) kendras. In fact, March saw a host of events around PMJAY (Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana) raising the visibility of generic medicines and the JA retail chemist stores, that are now in their 15th year.

Having got off to a slow start, the Government chain now has over 9,000 JA kendras across the country, with the promise of giving medicines at 50 to 90 per cent of the market price. In fact, the scheme is said to have resulted in savings to the out-of-pocket expenditure of people to the tune of about ₹20,000 crore in eight years, according to Union Health Ministry data. And the savings are in segments like diabetes, cardiovascular and hypertension medicines because of the regular nature of requirements.

JA Kendras

Over 1,759 medicines (covering 40-plus major therapeutic groups) to 280 surgical equipment and consumables are available at these JA kendras, the first of which was opened in November 2008. The aim is to get to 10,500 oulets by March 2025.

Generic medicines are chemically similar versions of an original one, only less expensive. A dynamic segment that has been thriving in India with multiple brands for several decades, the sector now sees policy evolve across healthcare service aggregators, e-pharmacies, and data safety. And it is in this overall landscape that affordable generic ventures are gaining ground.

Explaining the layers in the affordable generics segment, Dawaa Dost’s Chief Executive and Co-founder Amit Choudhary says, different ventures have different strategies. The government’s JA Kendras, for instance, are in the pure-play generics space, while Dawaa Dost, for instance, is in the branded generics segment.

The government venture is easily among the largest in terms of scope, but has its own challenges in terms of margins, supply chain issues, consumer trust etc, say industry-insiders.

At Dawaa Dost, Choudhary says, the effort is to provide the right brand at the right price and that price discovery sits at the core of the venture’s success. This strategy delivers a 50 per cent or higher saving to consumers and that there is also an element of consistency in the recommendations they make to consumers. His suggestion to the JA model, for instance, is to explore a price discovery approach to get quality products at an affordable price.

The other strategy that also operates in this affordable space is where a company sells medicines with its own brands, for instance, like Generic Aadhaar. In three years, this venture has about 2,000 outlets, says its young-founder Arjun Deshpande. “We have a portfolio of 1,000 products, and 300 Generic Aadhaar medicines procured directly from manufacturers,” he said. The venture also has cancer products, he said, adding that medicines that would have cost ₹1 lakh are sold at ₹10,000.

Nascent space

The trend of affordable generic retailers represents a nascent space in a tradition industry, says DD’s Choudhary . And the two will co-exist, he says, adding that policy and regulation would help bring greater transparency in the sector.

The retail pharma space has in recent years been disrupted by the e-marketplace and aggregators, who are bringing together medicines, diagnostic tests, doctors consultations onto a single platform. And this is causing some concern such as availability of certain types of prescription drugs, data privacy and other aspects.

Having raised the need for greater governance of the online pharma retail space, JS Shinde, President, All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists said stringent rules were required to prevent the sale of spurious and duplicate drugs. He is, however, more accommodating on the proliferating ventures in the affordable generics space. There is no problem if these ventures are licensed players under the ambit of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act (1940), he said, in which case, they are governed by rules in terms of production, storage, promotion, discounts. And this becomes important for consumers, he says, who need to be assured of the safety and quality of the medicine they take.