India drug prices
People walk past a chemist shop at a market in MumbaiDanish Siddiqui/Reuters

India's drug-pricing regulator has slashed the prices of 54 drugs, which are used to treat cancer, diabetes and heart diseases, by 55%. This is the first time the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority is taking such an extraordinary step.

The regulator said in a statement: "NPPA has fixed/revised ceiling prices of 54 scheduled formulations of Schedule-I under Drugs [Price Control] Amendment Order, 2016 and Retail Price of 11 formulations under DPCO, 2013."

The list includes commonly used drug formulations to treat critical diseases. The aim of the move is to make the medicines available to a wider public at cheaper rates.

Among the drugs which come under the purview of the new regulation is the life-saving Trastuzumab drug, used to treat breast cancer. Its price has been brought down to Rs55,800 (£580), which is 25% lower from the original pricing.

India's health ministry had earlier added more drugs to the list of essential medicines to make them available under the price control regulations. The additional 54 drug formulations are now part of this revised list.

The regulator has asked manufacturers, retailers and distributors to adhere to the latest price ceiling with immediate effect.

Responding to the move, Leena Menghaney, an activist and lawyer, told the Times of India: "Pharma companies charge high premiums for branded biological medicines such as the anticancer drug, trastuzumab to maximise profits.

"The current system devised by NPPA of fixing prices based on average MRPs [Maximum Retail Prices] of the brands in the market works against patients and consumer interests and leaves essential medicines out of reach for most. The ceiling price for the breast cancer drug trastuzumab listed by the NPPA is Rs. 55812 for 440 mcg and does not bring any relief to patients and their families who are going into debt or going without the treatment due to the costs."