By Nikkhil S Masurkar
Hailed as the “pharmacy of the world”, the booming pharmaceutical industry of India is a leading source of path-breaking innovation especially when it comes to providing life-saving medicines at affordable prices to countries that need them the most. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic,the world continued to depend on Indian vaccine and pharmaceutical manufacturers to get their supply of medications. As per data, India exported 5.84 crore doses of COVID vaccines to 70 countries as of March 2021. With low-cost skilled manpower and a well-established manufacturing base, India is all set to play even a bigger role in worldwide drug security and continue to be one of most the favoured pharmaceutical markets in the world.
What Led to India’s Emergence as the “Pharmacy of the World”?
Product patents on medicines were not granted in India before 2005. As a result, Indian pharmaceutical manufacturers were able to produce low-cost generic versions of drugs that had patents from other countries. With the help of reverse engineering, India was the first to bring to the market affordable versions of the HIV drugs (Zidovudine) and life-saving cancer (Imatinib) within a few years after their US launch. With numerous generic drug producers in India, there has been a price reduction of over 99 per cent for drugs across various therapeutic areas such as Tuberculosis, Malaria, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and drugs for non-communicable diseases which are critical aspects of public health programs.
Also, India plays a vital role in the supply of affordable HIV medicines around the world. In 1999, the WHO announced HIV/AIDS as the number one killer in Africa. As big pharmaceutical companies started charging $ 10,000 per year per patient for antiretroviral, for millions it became economically unviable to seek treatment. Indian pharmaceutical industry came to the rescue by enabling manufacturing and supply of HIV antiretroviral with a 99.99 percent price cut.Presently, India is the world’s leading source of affordable HIV medicines since it’s also among the few with the ability to quickly manufacture newer HIV medicines as generics.
Apart from medicines, India is one of the biggest suppliers of low-cost vaccines to countries all over the world. When large MNC pharmaceutical companies held a complete monopoly over the recombinant Hepatitis B vaccine, India was the first to market the vaccine at an affordable price for the public. India is the country with the largest number of US-FDA compliant pharmaceutical plants which plays a key role in augmenting its pharmaceutical export efforts. It is estimated that about 65 per cent of children in the world receive a minimum of one vaccine manufactured by India. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, India is amongst the biggest exporters of vaccines with world-class R&D facilities and qualified manpower.
Major Drivers of Growth in the Future
- Artificial Intelligence or AI will help the industry to come up with new and automated algorithms. This will help in achieving quicker, precise and repeatable results. Drug discovery and molecular analysis are other areas that would also involve the use of AI. The use of AI will in turn help to tackle difficult diseases, monitor drug adherence, comprehend complex data and improve inclusion and exclusion criteria in clinical trials.
- Research on drugs or medicines for treating rare diseases and neglected diseases will see a rise in 2020.
- Several pharmaceutical companies would assign additional resources to create next-generation molecules. Over the coming years, India will witness more research on gene therapy, stem cell therapy and biosimilars.
- The rise of digital therapeutics involving the use of high-quality evidence to offer optimal therapeutic interventions through automated programs. This will enable pharmaceutical companies to turn to service providers in therapeutics from simple medicine manufacturers.
- Technological advancements would also allow healthcare providers to identify new therapeutic areas of treatment from already marketed drugs.
Over the past few years, India has emerged as a global ‘medical superpower’ by strengthening its research & development ecosystem and fuelling pharmaceutical exports. The Indian pharmaceutical sector has firmly moved on to a path of growth and innovation even when the entire world was gripped in the clutches of the pandemic. All that can be said with absolute confidence is that further investments will enable India’s pharmaceutical sector to make it to the global top strata.
(The author is Executive Director, ENTOD Pharmaceuticals. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)