Scarcity of China salt might cause antibiotics' shortage in India

New Delhi (IANS) Even as India's pharma majors have said that there are enough raw material stocks for a few more months, industry insiders fear that coronavirus-created supply constraints might lead to shortages of blood pressure and antibiotic drugs from April onwards.

A prolonged outbreak of coronavirus and the consequent lockdown in China is expected to adversely impact the supply of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), which are a key raw material used to manufacture medical drugs.

The domestic pharmaceutical industry is highly dependent on imports, with more than 60 per cent of its API requirement being shipped in, and in some specific cases, like cephalosporins, azithromycin and penicillin, the dependence is as high as 80 to 90 per cent.

Out of the total imports of APIs and intermediates into India, China accounts for 65-70 per cent.

To deal with the upcoming shortages, industry insiders have suggested that the government should take a pro-active stand by incentivising API manufacturing in India and to slash duty on raw materials that will be imported from other markets.

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"China's coronavirus is turning out to be a major disrupter to India's $37-billion drug production," Abhay Pandey, National President, All Food and Drug Licence Holder Foundation (AFDLHF), told IANS.

"We have suggested the government to control the exports of pharmaceutical finished products as domestic supply shortages may occur within a few months."

Till now, the Centre has not implemented any move to curb exports. Since, locally sold medicines are all manufactured as per Indian pharmacopoeia, while drugs being exported are manufactured in accordance to international ones, as such the API used in their manufacture is also of a different kind.

"These are not interchangeable commodity items, and thus curbing export of such medicines is not going to have any impact on the Indian market," said Shirish Ghoge, a former senior director with Abbott & Sanofi.

"There is also the question of packaging, products being exported have primary and secondary packaging in foreign languages like French, Spanish, Portugeuse, Russian... These cannot be diverted back to the Indian market."

Nevertheless, supply side constraints and risk of contaminated APIs are expected to result in shortages of certain kinds of medicines which are out of the scheduled list.

"We expect the shortages to hit the market from the first quarter of the next fiscal. Consequently, prices might also see an upward revision," Ghoge said.

Currently, the government has kept 650 drugs under the scheduled list, whose prices can not be raised by the industry.

However, shortages are expected to occur for medicines which are largely not included in the list.

Notwithstanding, the current vulnerabilities of India's pharma set up, it has also afforded an opportunity for local manufacturing of these APIs in India, Ghoge, who now is a consultant to leading pharma companies said.

"The escalation in prices of API has developed over the past few decades, wherein no measures were taken to support the domestic API industry and India and indeed the world has placed all their eggs in one basket for short term profit of cheaper Chinese goods," Ghoge said.

"The current situation has just brought the issue back in public domain."

On the retail end, e-major PharmEasy' Co-Founder Dharmil Sheth said: "The government is making sure not to leave any loose ends as far availability of necessary medical supplies are concerned".

"Centre has asked manufacturers to be careful while exporting essential medical products that are limited in stock."

According to ICRA research, the domestic APIs manufacturers have an inventory of hardly two months, which should adequately support their production till mid-March 2020.

"Continuation of the virus outbreak, however, beyond mid-March 2020 may adversely impact production of these API manufacturers, possibly leading to a complete halt of production for some smaller players," the ratings agency has said.

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