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Manufacturing sector needs to re-skill and upskill workforce

Sanket Rathod and Namdeo Shinde
Thursday, January 28, 2021, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has shown the Indian pharmaceutical sector in a favourable light, it has also significantly exposed the frailties of the sector. Due to the challenges the sector faced during this crisis, various economic bodies in the country such as the NITI Aayog urged that this needs to be addressed and a new policy for manufacturing of APIs and pharmaceutical intermediates within the country should be promoted.

The occurrence of the global pandemic has triggered largest fear that the global as well as extended pharmaceutical supply chain would smash. In reality, it has proved remarkably resilient with drug shortages kept to a minimum. In addition, the pandemic has exposed some weaknesses in the supply chain that must be addressed as the world recovers plus prepares for what the future holds.

During this unique time, pharmaceutical industries are responding to the rapid challenges arising from disruption in supply chains as well as the need to transforming towards new business processes. If the current COVID-19 pandemic lasts for a medium or long period of time, it may impact the supply of active material, ingredients, as well as the import and export of pharmaceuticals across the world. There is also the potential for negative impacts of both a medium- and longer-term nature on R&D and manufacturing activities. While the full impact of the global pandemic is still unknown, pharmaceutical industries need to respond, recover as well as flourish.

COVID-19 pandemic has made the entire world recognize the need to re-imagine supply chains. Everyone will try and avoid too much reliance on one country or region. India imported 70 per cent of its API from China and felt the disruption when China was under lockdown. The Govt. of India has already announced Rs 10000 crore of investments to incentivise production of APIs in India.

The Indian pharmaceutical industry is the world’s third largest drug producer by volume as well as the country’s market manufactures 60 per cent of vaccines globally. However, the Indian pharmaceutical industry plays an important role in the global pharma sector. The sector is also the highest generic drug supplier globally and supplies medicines in the UK.

India set up 40-70 per cent of supply to satisfy the WHO demand for Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis (DPT) as well as Bacillus Calmette Guerin (BCG) vaccines. It meets 90 per cent of the global demand for the measles vaccine. Additionally, its APIs market is forecast to attain revenue of $6 billion.

According to a report on the Indian pharmaceutical industry, the source of APIs is a crucial part of the pharmaceutical company’s strategic plan to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of APIs for generic drug manufacturing across the globe are sourced from India. They also supply approximately 30 per cent of the generic APIs used in the US. But Indian manufacturers rely heavily on APIs from China for the production of their medicine formulations, procuring around 70 per cent from China, which the top global producer as well as exporter of APIs by volume.

India supplies affordable and low-cost generic drugs to millions of people around the globe. India operates more than 250 US FDA as well as UK MHRA approved pharmaceutical plants. The pharmaceutical industry was expected to grow to $100 billion, while the medical device market was expected to grow $25 billion by 2025. Apart from this, India’s biotech industry, which includes bio-pharma, was expected to grow at an average growth rate of around 30 per cent a y-o-y to reach $100 billion by 2025.

The COVID-19 pandemic has counterbalanced the decline of pharmaceutical companies, with demand for medicine as well as healthcare tools.  However, with the supply chain broken, the supply of required healthcare products started to decrease at an alarming rate. Due to the onset of COVID-19, this sector has become one of the busiest sectors in the Indian market. However, in order to adapt to the changing requirements, the sector is required to re-skill, up skill and new skill (RUN) its workforce.

Challenges faced by Indian pharma cos during pandemic
Manufacturing units/warehouses not working at full utilisation due to unavailability of staff. Non-availability or disrupted supply of raw materials and packing materials. Absence of seamless internet data connectivity with staff is creating issues in day-to-day work. Marketing staff facing issues in generating sales as they are unable to conduct in-person sales calls as they used to in the pre-COVID-19 scenario. The companies that have operations across the globe are facing issues with regard to their operations and staff in those locations. Every country has devised its own policies and guidelines. As with all industries, implementing effective and robust cyber security measures is a challenge in the work from home scenario.
 
Over-reliance on few sources of supply
COVID-19 exposed the pharmaceutical industry’s over-reliance on China and India for raw materials, APIs and, increasingly finished products. As an alternative, it has brought home what that over-reliance can mean when faced with a global health crisis. For example, the United States and Europe may be the two largest APIs manufacturers in the world, but in combination China and India have a greater market share than United States and Europe. India is the world’s largest manufacturer of generic medicines.

Any lasting disruption for these markets will have real impacts further down the supply chain. It is hugely instructive to note that this impact doesn’t always come from direct disruption. For example, India temporarily banned the export of some generic drugs as the government was worried about shortages in its domestic market. COVID-19 has demonstrated just how real these supply chain risks are, and the need for pharmaceutical industries to, wherever possible, have multiple sources of supply spread across different geographies so they can quickly switch production from highly impacted to lesser impacted territories.

There is, therefore, a much greater potential for India’s pharmaceutical sector now to increase trade partners both regionally and in other parts of the world. The government can encourage this by investing in more R&D for drug and pharma research within India and provide for more incentives to the private sector to enhance its production for export channels.
 

(Sanket Rathod is Research Scholar and Namdeo Shinde is Assistant Professor at Satara College of Pharmacy)

 

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