Indian pharmaceutical companies are heavily dependent on China to source fermentation-based active pharmaceutical ingredients and intermediates to manufacture these medicines, but the coronavirus outbreak there has disrupted the supply.
India may face a shortage of antibiotics, vitamins, and even diabetes medicines if no alternative source of raw material for these drugs is found soon.
Indian pharmaceutical companies are heavily dependent on China to source fermentation-based active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and intermediates to manufacture these medicines, but the coronavirus outbreak there has disrupted the supply.
The prices of certain APIs have already jumped 25-30 per cent in the domestic market, according to industry sources.
Plants manufacturing these APIs in China are shut in view of lockdown there.
Indian formulation units (medicine manufacturers) typically have a buffer stock of around two months, and some medicines from the stock are already in circulation.
“My supplier in Hebei province in China which does not even share a border with Hubei province, where Wuhan is in a lockdown, informed that people are confined to their homes and factories are shut until further notice. I am not receiving regular supplies of chemicals and intermediates from China,” said an API manufacturer in India.
He apprehended a shortage of antibiotics, vitamins and diabetes drugs if the supply disruption continued.
For metformin, the most-common prescribed diabetes medicine in India, the entire supply of fermentation APIs comes from China.
Industry representatives met senior officials of the department of pharmaceuticals on Monday and apprised them of the current inventory of raw materials.
They requested the government to ease pollution norms to allow indigenous units to alter their product portfolio and produce fermentation APIs in the country.
But a senior industry executive, who was a part of the meeting, doubted if Indian API units could switch their products so swiftly.
“It would take some time for the Indian units to start making the APIs which are currently imported from China. They have their own export commitments and other contracts,” he said.
The government, too, appeared concerned about the emerging situation.
A senior official admitted that the government had already checked if there were alternative sources to procure these APIs.
“For fermentation APIs, there is no other option. We have to wait and see how the situation pans out.
"We are considering the industry proposal to relax pollution norms to step up supplies here if needed,” he said.
Meanwhile, the sources indicated that the government may source anti-HIV drugs from Cipla in a bid to treat coronavirus cases in India.
The company did not respond to e-mailed queries.
Photograph: Srdjan Zivulovic/Reuters