It usually takes many years for a drug to be created, then another several years for it to gain licensing approval, and then comes a significant amount of investment, factors which all drive up prices, Wu explained.
Premier Li has urged some foreign medicine producers, including Shanghai Roche Pharmaceutical Ltd, to lower drug prices, which would benefit more cancer patients, domestic news site china.com.cn reported on April 12.
The company, an affiliate of Swiss multinational healthcare firm Roche in China, has already lowered prices of some drugs, and successfully negotiated with Chinese authorities to ensure four targeted cancer drugs were included on the reimbursement list, the media report said.
More reasonable prices would help more patients access treatment in a more timely manner, which would mean that the company would make smaller profits but a quicker turnover, a win-win for both sides, Li noted.
However, the recent announcement of exempting tariffs on imported drugs may have a limited influence on their retail prices, as current tariffs are not that high, said Liu, the doctor. "The tariffs are less than 10 percent now, which is not a crucial factor in making imported cancer drugs so expensive."
"The input into drug research at the initial stage, which can cost millions, even billions, of dollars, also helps drive up prices," he said, noting that retail prices will drop slightly after the policy takes effect.
Gap to fill
Zero tariffs could encourage foreign drug producers to increase their exports to the Chinese market, which would make competition between foreign and domestic companies much more intense, Wu noted.
"Chinese companies will be urged to increase investment in R&D, and stronger market competition can help upgrade healthcare services," the vice chairman said.
Also, accelerating the approval procedures for innovative drugs has already had a significant impact on the sector, especially since China has been lagging behind developed countries in terms of innovative drug application, the Shanghai Securities Daily reported on Friday.
From 2001 to 2016, 433 innovative drugs in total were put on the market in developed countries, whereas only about 100 became available in China, according to the media report.
To make medicine more affordable, it is crucial that domestic companies enhance innovation capabilities to break down the monopoly of foreign pharmaceutical firms, according to a post published on the central government's website on Monday.