Li Keqiang ordered lower cancer drug prices after the success of a movie entitled "Dying To Survive". Photo: People.com.cn, Baidu

Inspired by the successful movie “Dying To Survive”, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has stepped in to address what has become a burning social issue by lowering import tariffs on cancer treatment drugs.

According to a Chinese government release, Li ordered the lower tariffs because time means life to many Chinese cancer sufferers – and because the government understands the urgency felt by its people.

“Whenever there is a cancer patient in a family, the whole family will do everything it can to give a helping hand,” Li said.

Noting that cancer has become the number one threat to health in the nation, he made assurances that the government will try its best to save patients and lower the burdens placed on families by chronic illnesses such as cancer.

The issue’s importance was highlighted by the film “Dying To Survive”, a summer sensation produced by Alibaba Pictures.

The movie took 2.6 billion yuan (US$384.8 million) at the box office in the first two weeks after it was released on July 2. It tells the story of a man forced to resort to smuggling a cheap version of a leukemia medication into China from India.

Based on a real-life story, the movie has been an instant hit, and has generated widespread discussion on how the price and supply of vital drugs are monopolized by a few global market leaders.

Li’s announcement is seen as a move to calm the growing public discontent about pharmaceutical costs.

This comes after a State Council order in April reduced tariffs to zero to encourage innovative drugs to be imported to China. At the same time, the approval process involved in importing foreign drugs was shortened, and cross-border e-commerce sales were simplified. All of these moves were intended to address the supply issue.

However there seems to have been a delay in the execution of the April order, prompting Premier Li to insist that the general public should immediately realize the benefits of his policy.

“Cancer treatment medicine is for saving lives,” said Li. “We cannot allow prices to stay high after (we have already introduced) the zero tax policy.”

Premier’s Li’s announcement will also benefit the domestic pharmaceutical sector, especially those manufacturers who produce cancer drugs. Stocks in the sector rebounded an average of 2% yesterday, after a recent period of weakness.