HYDERABAD: Leading pharmaceutical companies in India are reacting to the imposition of price regulations by turning their attention to marketing in rural areas where drugs are consequently now more affordable.

The previous government introduced a new drug pricing policy last year which led to price cuts on 348 drugs and earlier this year another 108 drugs were included in guidelines permitting the drug regulator to cut prices. Pharmaceutical firms are now looking to turn this state of affairs to their advantage.

R Viswanathan, president of the Federation of Medical Representatives Association of India, told the Economic Times that there had been an increase in the number of medical representatives being recruited in rural and semi-urban markets.

"The growing hiring is mostly by medium to large pharma companies which focus on medicines for lifestyle diseases in the therapeutic areas such as neurology, cardiac and diabetes," he said.

There are some 200,000 medical representatives working across the country, with around a quarter now dedicated to rural markets. And one senior pharmaceutical executive thought that proportion was likely to grow further.

"The number of rural representatives may even reach a third of the total field force in a few years going by the current hiring spree," he said.

A second executive confirmed the new business direction. "We are viewing the drug price control order's stipulation on bringing down the prices as a business opportunity in the rural markets and we are pushing our brands aggressively in these markets, where consumption of medicines has grown of late due to lifestyle diseases," he said.

Industry figures suggest that drugs sales in rural and semi-urban areas have been growing at more than 17%, compared with 11-12% in the urban markets. More than one third of the domestic annual sales now come from these rural and semi-urban markets.

KPMG India also noted opportunities for Indian pharmaceutical businesses to compete overseas, with untapped markets in Japan, South America, the Middle East and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Data sourced from Economic Times, Business Standard; additional content by Warc staff