Covid-19 impact: Pharma players join hands to ensure smooth production

The Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA), the lobby group that represents India’s top 25 giants, has said the biggest companies are able to operate normally despite the crisis
The pharma industry in India is pulling out all the stops to ensure that the production of medicines, essential in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, does not suffer. In an unprecedented move, all major companies have come together to help one another with knowledge and sharing resources.

Capacity utilisation at an all-India level, relating to both small and big manufacturers, is 60-70 per cent, which is higher than in most other industries.

The Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA), the lobby group that represents India’s top 25 giants, has said the biggest companies are able to operate normally despite the crisis. Almost all the major drug firms have their units in Sikkim, where plants are operating at full capacity, industry said.

Pankaj Patel, chairman of Cadila Healthcare, said production in Sikkim was normal. Similarly, for Alembic Pharma, its Sikkim plant is operating in full swing.

The three leading industry associations — the IPA; the Indian Drug Manufacturers’ Association (IDMA), which represents mid-sized firms; and the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI), which represents multinational firms — are holding meetings every day, according to Sudarshan Jain, secretary general of the IPA.

“The crisis has brought us together. Moreover, the firms are also helping one another to pool resources. For example, in manufacturing clusters, like Indore and Goa, companies are pooling resources like trucks, and even helping one another to approach the regulators, etc in these areas,” Jain said.

“Let’s say, a Cipla and Lupin go together to present their case to the state administration, explain the challenges and what the requirements are. Then companies also coordinate to see wherever they can to pool resources to transport goods,” said Jain.

The pharma industry has taken stringent measures to ensure the safety of employees who come to the plant and the IPA had issued guidelines that most companies are following now. Apart from keeping a distancing on the shop floor and in canteens, even the buses that commute employees maintain a distance.

Every alternate seat in the bus is kept empty, Patel said.

These buses are sanitized twice a day. Temperature-screening kiosks check every employee and companies are following staggered shifts.

The problem of migrant labour, which is ailing other industries, is not much of an issue for the pharma sector.

Pranav Amin, chairman of Alembic Pharmaceuticals, said the sector required a certain level of expertise and usually the workforce was firmly settled in the cities they operated in.

“We have not seen any exodus of the workforce that is why. As such we have also made arrangements of hostels for some of the migrant workers who work as class 4 staff in our plants so that they feel safe and are well taken care of,” Amin explained.

Alembic's formulation plant is operating at above 80 per cent capacity while its active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) plant is operating at around 60-70 per cent capacity. The company is also prioritising the manufacturing of drugs that are in high demand now, like azithromycin.

Another Gujarat-based company Zydus is a leading producer of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and it has already increased its capacity to make both the API and the formulation manifold. “This month we are making 10 tonnes of the API that can make 100 million tablets and next month we will make 30 tonnes of the API that will make another 150 million tablets,” Patel said. As a temporary measure production of HCQ is happening in its Ahmedabad plant, too.

Patel also informed that the Centre had procured around 100 million tablets and states together have procured 60-70 million tablets. This can take care of more than one crore people in the country. At present, exports are happening from Teva's Goa unit where it had stock of HCQ lying.

The exports of pharma goods are happening with coordination between the department of pharmaceuticals, ministry of commerce and also the ministry of external affairs.

“The government is doing stock taking of domestic production and inventory regularly and then allowing exports. There would be no shortage of medicines in the country,” Patel said.

The industry says government agencies are ensuring smooth production and transit of these essential items within the country. Jain said that the top bureaucrats are in WhatsApp groups with associations and also manufacturers and are available round the clock for any issue that needs addressing.

The AIOCD AWACS data showed that there was adequate stock at the distributor level — with least being for anti-diabetic therapy (four weeks) and highest being for dermatology segment (eight weeks). Even anti-malarials have 52 days’ inventory despite the recent spurt in sales.

“This means that pharmaceutical companies have done a fantastic job in manufacturing and transporting to reach goods to CFA under very challenging circumstances of low workforce — in both production and transport areas. As production and transport ramps up, the stock level can only go up and continue to stabilise, assuring the nation of no shortage of essential medicines,” said Ameesh Masurekar, director of AIOCD AWACS.



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