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Bolstering Sikkim’s growth

Sikkim needs to re-strategise to develop newer capabilities and scale-up its growth to retain its position as a pharma hub

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For the last few years, Sikkim has proven itself as an investor-friendly destination, with many pharma companies setting up their shop there. Several major pharma companies such as Cipla, Sun Pharma, ZydusCadila, Alembic, IPCA, Alkem Lab, Intas Pharma, Torrent Pharma and Unichem, with their facilities in the state have been able to sustain themselves with fiscal incentives and industry-friendly policies like the ‘North East Industrial and Investment Promotion Policy (NEIIPP), 2007, giving a boost to the sector.
In a cost-competitive environment, when the pharma industry is thriving to grow and looking forward to a sustainable business model, pharma stakeholders are looking for avenues which can accelerate their growth. However, with the rapidly shifting paradigms of the global pharma industry, it is imperative to analyse the challenges that knock on the door of established pharma hubs. And Sikkim is no exception.

Located in the Himalayas, apart from the rough topography with frequent landslides and unpredictable weather, pharma companies in Sikkim are also facing challenges like getting the right talent, meeting regulatory compliances, etc. Developing cross-functional team culture, reskilling, building leadership strategies and tapping the right talent and adapting to new technologies are aspects which pharma companies should look at to sustain in this competitive environment.

Technology — a potential game-changer
Digital revolution is well underway and pharma companies are no exception. Sikkim-based pharma companies are having a tough time coping with the fast-growing digital evolution. While they are trying to adapt to the rapidly changing digital revolution, companies need to re-strategise their plans.
As Dr TK Rai, Deputy Drug Controller, HC HS & FW, Sikkim, points out, “In this era of technology, Sikkim is lagging. A lot needs to be done on the technology front and we need to work more efficiently and effectively to make the pharma sector climb newer heights.”

He further mentioned, “With the help of CDSCO, we can start an online registration process. Implementing e-Governance at CDSCO through SUGAM portal will bring in simplicity, transparency, reliability, accountability and also simplify conducting business.”

Dr Rai stressed on the need to start a WhatsApp group to counter CSR notifications, office orders, and make the communication process easier between pharma companies and government agencies. According to him, the WhatsApp group can be a convenient medium since Sikkim has many holidays, and easy communication can be had in case of urgency.

Adapting to newer technologies and assuring the quality compliance is something which pharma companies should look at sustain themselves in the long run. Dr Upendra Quenim, Vice President Operations – Swiss Garnier says, “Loss is always a concern. Sikkim has mountainous terrain and it a zero residual state. We have to revive and control losses by upgrading technology. Pharma companies with the right use of technology can reduce production cycling time and enable real-time release ”
According to Dr Quenim, software-based solutions like laboratory information management system, laboratory informatics system and stability information management systems can benefit the pharma industry while supporting modern laboratory operations.

Apart from adopting the right technology, companies also need to look at attracting the right talent. How can this be achieved?

Training and attracting the right talent

Tapping the right talent is always a challenge in a mountainous region. Proper training is crucial for employees working in a pharma facility. To meet FDA requirements, a company needs to develop a complete, detailed training programme that will lead to the successful training of all its employees. So what are regulators and pharma companies looking for?

Dr Quenim says, “Students in Sikkim are intelligent and complete their curriculum in a dedicated and steadfast manner. Challenge is to amalgamate their knowledge to the industry needs in the respective job area or department. One challenge is to amalgamate their knowledge according to industry needs for
their respective job area or department.”

While talking about how Swiss Garnier’s corporate HR scrutinises the CVs before recruiting the right candidate, Dr Quenim says, “The selection criteria is by merit. Good CV, good interview and good background information help, in addition to the technical knowledge of the person. We also groom freshers as per our requirements. In case of operators and instrumentation experts, we also take an on-site trial if required to see if the person is pro.”

Dr Rai mentions, “We will request the DCG(I) to conduct a training programme in Sikkim not only for the regulatory officials but also for the manufacturing units and we can chalk out our plans accordingly. Conducting WHO GMP training for employees will enable the employees to become well versed with the current rules and regulations.”

“Without a right talent acquisition strategy in place, pharma companies can find it difficult to attract the right candidates,” Dr Rai mentions.

Rai adds, “Pharmacy colleges with academic-industry cell should work together for the betterment of the sector.” He urged the industry to work with the government to take pharmacy education to the next level.
According to Sachin Sangal, Founder & CMD, Xcentric Learning Edge, there is a huge crunch of skilled people in the industry. Pharma companies in Sikkim can form a platform for new aspirants to attract talent to their company. Business communication and behaviour are two important aspects which students can focus on and as a result, pharma companies will be benefitted.

Revealing more, Sangal says, “There are few people who are handling the show but there are many who are playing supportive roles. Pharma companies should take into account those.”

Sangal adds, “Employees need to reskill themselves to keep themselves sustained in the job market. Reskilling has its benefits — employee-employer satisfaction, trust-building between employee-employer, improve processes, reduce error and survival and moving hand-in-hand with new technologies.”
Deepak Verma, General Manager, Zuventus Healthcare, stressed upon building leadership strategies and grooming talents and mentioned that there are two ways to leadership strategies — industry and people leadership.

He said, “We need to adhere to the systems and match international standards. There is a need to understand the regulatory reforms. Digitisation and automation will transform quality control work in labs and on the shop floors by introducing new ways of working.”

Learning and development are important for any pharma companies to progress. It will help them evaluate their employees’ strengths and engage them as team members. Also, in the age of social media, employees should be accustomed to the latest trends happening in the sector.

Verma further mentions, “Pharma companies in Sikkim should ensure that all employees have access to the library and internet facilities. The industry should adapt to new changes such as encourage
innovation, 360-degree appraisal, generate leaders, leadership development programmes, volunteers to facilitate meetings, keep monitoring without interfering, trust-building and encourage experience sharing.”
According to Mohoshin Alam, Head – QA & QC Lupin, “Talent is important for any company to maintain and sustain the growth. Companies should be careful while recruiting as, in many instances, they go in for panic hiring leading to attrition.”

Establish a cross-functional team

The benefits of a cross-functional team (CFT) is immense. A team can thrive in an agile environment and can be an effective solution for an array of obstacles. For a pharma company to thrive in a hostile environment, a cross-functional team can be a game-changer.

Says Amit Sharma, Head-Quality Assurance, Alembic Pharmaceutical, “The concept of a cross-functional team is often neglected in the pharma sector.” One of the important aspects is culture and according to Sharma, there are four kinds of cultures which exist in an industry: They are clan, adhocracy, market and hierarchy.

Sharma opines, “Chances of achieving success is maximum with CFTs. A time-bound job, and due to monitoring mechanism, job success is more accurate. There should be a behavioural expert within a team where he/she has to be involved in the selection of the team. Also, one should follow the five principles such as humanity, passion, attitude, transparency and effective communication. CFTs also play an important role, gap analysis, audit and compliance during an investigation.”

Companies can build the capacity for strategic leadership. Companies can develop and retain leaders who can guide the organisation through the times of fundamental change.

Says Soumaya Dutt, General Manager & Site Head – Formulation Operations, Glenmark Pharmaceuticals says, “Leadership talks about values, empowerment, encouragement and vision. A leader needs to ensure how things are getting implemented. A leader should ensure improvement and make the required changes and should motivate and inspire the team.”

Dutt mentions, “Keeping everyone on a common platform and giving them the right direction towards organisational goals is critical for pharma players’ success. The leader should be a connector with the team. An organisation can change an efficient leader to a strategic leader. Keeping all these things in mind can eventually bring in a change for pharma players based out of Sikkim.”

Stepping up regulatory compliance

FDA feels that marketing innovation in the pharma sector has been stagnant by heavy regulatory restrictions. The industry can, however, develop strategies and transform their fundamental business models.

Drawing comparisons of what Sikkim offered to the pharma sector 12 years back and what it offers now, Ranjit Mohapatra, General Manager Operation, Sun Pharma says that the state offers much more now in terms of revenue and job satisfaction.

The US FDA oversees regulatory activities across pharma companies in the country and also in Sikkim, forcing the companies to identify quality issues before they impact the production.
According to a report from India Ratings, the US-focussed Indian pharma players will be required to step up regulatory compliance in the upcoming decade as they invest in complex generics and specialised and innovative plays.

Stressing on it, Mohapatra says, “We have to be very particular towards regulatory compliance and it is mandatory. Strategies need to be in place to ensure good practices with regulatory compliances. Traditional methods are not proper to face the challenges which pharma companies are facing today. Organisations are increasingly adopting integrated and streamlined approaches to compliances which can help to minimise the cost.”

Improving transportation

Sikkim needs to look for a specialised quality system during transportation and shipment of pharmaceutical products. Transportation costs are high for the entire North-Eastern region and Sikkim is no exception to this. Sikkim’s only greenfield airport located in Pakyong is 21 kilometres from the capital city Gangtok. Though the airport was inaugurated with much fanfare in 2018, commercial flight operations were hampered due to poor weather conditions and visibility issues.

Sikkim has a history of flash floods and frequent landslides. Every year the state capital is cut off from the rest of the country which leads to disruption of life in the state with emergency and essential services getting stranded. It will be noteworthy to mention that at the recently held Sikkim Pharma Summit in Gangtok, delegates from a few of the pharma companies were unable to attend the event due to landslides near the facilities.

Indian Railways will start direct train services to Rangpo in Sikkim which will eventually make the travel-time lesser from the plains. The 45 km Sivok-Rangpo project can be a gamechanger for the economy of Sikkim as logistics can reach the desired destinations within a fixed time frame, which will be good for the pharma sector.

With logistics issues, the labour costs also go up. Inadequate infrastructure, some of it due to hilly terrain, is a limiting factor for most in the pharma sector in Sikkim.

Looking forward

Pharma companies are upbeat on Sikkim. Taking care of the logistics issues, with proper training facilities, building a cross-functional team and adapting to newer technologies can make Sikkim continue to be a desired destination for pharma companies for decades to come. How the state government responds to the issues faced by pharma companies and how can the latter leverage the benefits, only time can say.

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