The Health Ministry which earlier formed at committee to replace gelatin capsules with plant-based capsules has now invited comments from all stakeholders. The aforementioned committee was formed almost after a year after Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi gave a ‘representation” ‘to the Health Ministry on completely the replacing gelatin capsules with plant-based ones. As per a report by Indian Express, currently over 98 per cent of the Indian pharmaceutical industry uses animal-based gelatin capsules where as plant-based capsules are marketed by just two manufacturers including Indian-based Associated Capsules, and the American Capsugel. Gelatin capsules are largely made by heating the connective tissues, bones and skin of animals. In the representation highlighting the same to JP Nadda last year, Maneka had said, “In a country where there are millions of vegetarians, this hurts religious sentiments and many people avoid medicines that are in capsule form.”
“Representations received from the Jain community have also requested that since there is an option available in the country, consumers must not be forced to use capsules made from animal tissue,” she added. Maneka also stated that the plant-based capsules are easier to digest and that it is absurd that we continue to use the same unstable product (gelatin capsules) for medicinal purposes. As per the official document obtained by Indian Express, Nadda has discussed the issue with the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) GN Singh and Health Secretary Bhanu Pratap Singh seeking immediate and necessary steps in regards to the same. However, the issue faced initial hiccups in May last year as country’s top drug committee the Drug Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) rejected Health Ministry’s proposal.
But this did not deter the Health Ministry and days later it convened a meeting under the chairmanship of the health secretary on shifting the use of gelatin capsules by non-gelatin capsules . Later, Singh agreed to the fact that no standard for a vegetable capsule had been prescribed in Pharmacopoeia, the official book published with a list of drugs and their related information. He also stated that the capsules are around 3 times costlier in India compared to the gelatin capsules.
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By the end of 2016, a Heath Ministry official wrote in the file: “Changes in rules. WCD (Women and Child Development) Minister has been flagging this issue. DCGI to be reminded. A file to be opened. Please put up on the file urgent.”
It was then decided by the Ministry to form an expert committee on March 20, 2017, in order to address all technical issues pertaining to this matter. Replying to Indian Express over an email, a senior director of consultancy major Deloitte India, Sudeep Krishna said “The proposed replacement of gelatin-based capsules with vegetarian capsules would be a change of a mammoth scale with scientific, social and economic/financial/access implications… A selective approach for the shift in the short-term might be beneficial to consider.”