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      New business saves money on medicines from India


      One recent afternoon, James Rhode of North Chemung accompanied his wife, Sharon, into a new storefront on West Water Street in Elmira and began what they hope will be a long money-saving relationship.

      Sharon Rhode, 65, used to pay $100 for a one-month supply of Rabeprazole Sodium to control her acid reflux condition.

      When she placed her order at Upstate Discounted Drugs, at 207 W. Water St., the order was transmitted electronically to a licensed pharmacy network in India. And the price she'll pay for her 60-tablet order is $72, which is cheaper than prices charged by domestic pharmaceutical companies, James Rhode said.

      "We used to order the same medicine from Canada, but this is still a lot cheaper," he said.

      Upstate Discounted Drugs Inc. is owned by T.D. "Pat" Seethapathy, the president of TDS Fitness Equipment on Elmira's Southside.

      Seethapathy said he has family members in India who own a network of pharmacies and hospitals there.

      Upstate has distributed medicine though its Web site for almost five years, but the storefront was opened to serve those without computer access, Seethapathy said.

      Orders are transmitted to and filled by the pharmacies owned by Seethapathy's relatives, he said, and the store is the first of its kind in the area.

      As the cost of prescription drugs sold in the United States continues to increase, consumers such as Rhode are seeking cheaper sources for their medicine.

      And Indian drug companies, many of which have been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration, are filling the need.

      Area pharmacists, however, are wary of foreign distributors such as Upstate.

      "Before I would buy anything from them, I would want evidence about the controls on production that I can hang my hat on," said Michael Calveric, a registered pharmacist at Gerould's Pharmacy in Elmira.

      According to the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, Indian companies produce about 22 percent of the world's generic drug supply and are on track to capture a third of the world's generic drug business by 2007.

      The alliance represents India's 13 leading pharmaceutical companies, including Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. in New Delhi, the country's largest, with $1 billion in annual revenue.

      India is also home to more than 70 FDA-approved plants and 200 other manufacturing facilities certified as having good manufacturing practices - more facilities than any other foreign country, according to the Reed Life Science Network in Rockaway, N.J.

      India also has the second-largest concentration of scientists in the world after the United States, many of whom speak English and willing to work for a fifth of the salary of their counterparts in the West, according to Reed Life Science Network.

      Upstate Discounted Drug opened about two weeks ago, said manager Michael Dungan of Bath, one of three employees working there.

      He said it is modeled after similar operations that order medicine from Canada. Upstate offers more than 100 generic drugs in various doses.

      "People like to save money," Dungan said. "There are rules in India that say medicine prices can't go above a certain level, and there aren't any controls like that in the United States."

      To order medicine, customers need prescriptions from a physician and must pay when the orders are taken.

      It usually takes two to three weeks for the order to be filled, Dungan said.

      He also said people concerned about the quality of their medicine have the option of staying with their current supplier.

      But he said many U.S. drug companies are starting to outsource their production work to approved foreign facilities.

      The Rhodes were hesitant when they learned the source of the drugs they were ordering at Upstate.

      "But when (Dungan) told us they were FDA-approved, we felt better," James Rhode said.

      "If this works out, we'll order the medicine to treat her Osteoporosis from (Upstate Discounted Drugs)."

      November 23, 2005


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