INDIAN PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRIES IN THE TIMES OF COVID-19 PANDEMIC

By: Moksha Grover

As the whole world is suffering against the covid-19 pandemic, pharmaceutical industries all over the world are trying their level best to fight against these unprecedented times. The covid pandemic has actually benefitted the pharmaceutical industry and helped in the growth and development of this industry. The Indian pharmaceutical industry is the world’s third largest drug producer by volume and the country’s market manufactures 60 percent of vaccines globally[1]. This constitutes 40 to 70 percent of the supply to satisfy the World Health Organization’s (WHO) demand for Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis (DPT) and Bacillus Calmette Guerin (BCG) vaccines and 90 percent of the global demand for the measles vaccine[2]. In this covid pandemic, the Indian pharmaceutical industry has played a vital role in distributing affordable and low-cost generic drugs to millions of people around the globe.

GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT OF INDIAN PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRIES

The covid-19 pandemic presented several opportunities for the pharmaceutical companies and helped them to think differently. It helped them to act in a sense of urgency for all the patients who were looking for cheap and affordable medicines. In this pandemic, Indian companies have risen and developed in the field of therapeutics by re-purposing the dugs.

This pandemic also gave the pharmaceutical companies opportunities to work in collaborations with some major global companies for the purpose of developing the covid vaccine in turn enhancing the global connections. Serum Institute of India partnered with Oxford University, Zydus Cadila partnered with Gamaleya Institute of Russia, Panacea Biotec collaborated with US-based Refana Inc and there are many other companies who collaborated for the purpose of producing good and effective vaccines against the deadly virus. These collaborations and partnerships helped the companies to make effective vaccines, develop a stand in therapeutics, and also reach the global market.

Indian pharma industry took a proactive approach during the pandemic and also became successful in proving its mettle in complex and specialty generics. These companies also ensured regular manufacturing by not hindering manufacturing even for a single day. With the development in the pharma industry, eCommerce platforms and industries also developed. In the current pandemic, a great deal of motivation was given to E-pharmacy which helped in ensuring that patients received their medication despite lockdown. The domestic pharma market turnover in India has reached Rs. 1.4 lakh crores (equivalent to $ 20.03 billion) in 2019 as per the government data[3]. This is actually an increase from Rs. 1.29 lakh crores in 2018[4].

CHALLENGES FACED BY INDIAN PHARMACY INDUSTRIES DUE TO PANDEMIC

The source of APIs plays a very crucial role in the strategic plan of the Indian pharmaceutical industry to combat covid-19. A major challenge faced by this industry is the supply of APIs. Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) are defined as the active ingredients contained in a medicine. This pandemic has highlighted the dependence of the Indian pharma industry on imported APIs. Today, 60 percent of India’s API requirement is imported[5]. In commonly used APIs, such as cephalosporins, azithromycin, and penicillin, the dependence is as high as 90 percent [6].  Of the total imports of APIs and intermediates into India, China accounts for 65–70 percent [7]. This is a problem faced by almost the whole west depends upon china for their API supplies. This pandemic has also highlighted low healthcare coverage in India. n terms of healthcare spending, India has one of the lowest healthcare budgets with just 1.26 percent of GDP being spent on healthcare[8]. India ranks 155th out of the 167 countries in terms of hospital bed availability (as per the Human Development Report 2020) with just five beds available for every 10,000 Indians[9].  Such a sudden rise in covid cases in India highlighted the shortage of hospital beds, medicines, and availability of laboratory tests. As pandemics have always shifted the way people react. A similar change has been seen in the consumption pattern of various consumers. There has been an increase in the case of online ordering and e-consultations, especially in the case of chronic diseases. These challenges can result in long-term impacts on this industry.

STRATEGIES FOR PROMOTING INDIAN PHARMA PRODUCTION

Initiatives like Production Linked Incentives (PLI) schemes for bulk drugs and medical devices introduced by the government for the industry’s self-reliance have given a major boost to this industry. These incentives are to the tune of INR6,940 crore and INR3,420 crore, respectively, and encompass greenfield projects for bulk drugs and intermediates, and the establishment of three bulk drug parks[10]. In addition to this, the government should take some steps in removing the financial and technical barriers prevailing within this industry. This will in turn help in reducing the dependency of the Indian pharma industry on china for APIs.

The pharmaceutical companies have now identified the importance of backward integration which is expected to bring greater reliability, improve the quality of production, reduce dependence on external sources of supply, and help in increasing the efficacy of manufacturing. Several key representatives from the pharmaceutical industry and NITI Aayog have suggested fostering the approvals of pharmaceutical infrastructure developments, clearance from the environment ministry, and providing tax exemptions and subsidies for the development and promotion of the pharmaceutical industry hubs could benefit the market[11].

Over the last few years, many tourists have been visiting India for their medical treatment. The government has also relaxed rules for the tourists by issuing rapid airport clearances and fast-track medical visas, thus helping in the promotion of this industry.

CONCLUSION

This covid pandemic has been a boon to the Indian pharmaceutical industry. Medicine spending in India is expected to grow between 9-12 percent over the next five years, leading India to become one of the top 10 countries in terms of medical spending[12]. It is now important for all pharmaceutical companies to shift their product portfolio toward chronic diseases like covid drugs, antidepressants, anti-diabetes, cancers, etc. which are on the hike nowadays. Many initiatives have been taken up by the government to reduce healthcare expenses and make it affordable for the whole population of the country. The introduction of generic drugs has also paved the way for the benefit of pharma companies. It is now important to focus on the rural healthcare system and provide the rural areas with the necessary drugs and preventive vaccines. Doing so will help a lot in the development of pharma companies in India and will also lead to the development of the country as a whole.


[1] Dr Abhishek Dadhich, ‘The COVID-19 pandemic and the Indian pharmaceutical industry’, EPR (22 April,2020) < https://www.europeanpharmaceuticalreview.com/article/117413/the-covid-19-pandemic-and-the-indian-pharmaceutical-industry/> accessed 19th September 2021.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Dr Sujith Varma K, ‘Covid-19 impact on Indian pharmaceutical industry’, PHARMABIZ.COM (10th February, 2021) < http://www.pharmabiz.com/ArticleDetails.aspx?aid=135427&sid=9#:~:text=The%20domestic%20pharma%20market%20turnover,actually%20an%20increase%20from%20Rs.> accessed 19th September,2021.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Sanjay Singh, ‘Pharmaceuticals: emerging not just stronger, but better and smarter’, KPMG https://home.kpmg/in/en/home/insights/2021/04/indian-pharma-industry-boom-mantra.html accessed 19th September,2021.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Dr Sujith Varma K (n 3)

[12] Ibid.