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Why COVID-19 presents a golden opportunity to Indian pharma firms

Juilee Dandekar, Sector Expert - Healthcare, Business Research & Advisory, Aranca informs that with India Pharma Inc's expertise and cost competitiveness in manufacturing, it can play a major role in ensuring access to essential medicines and vaccines and has a great potential for growth

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India is among the leaders in the global pharma industry, being the third-largest producer in terms of volume and at the 10th position in terms of value. A significant raw material base and availability of a skilled workforce have enabled India to emerge as an international manufacturing hub. It is one of the top manufacturers of generic medicines worldwide, with 20 per cent share in their global supply.

India is emerging as the epicentre of vaccine manufacturing. Top pharma companies in the country are supplying basic and advanced vaccines to nearly 150 nations. The state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities in India, that enjoy government support, have the largest capacity globally for manufacturing WHO-prequalified vaccines.

The major players in the vaccine manufacturing space in India are:

  1. Serum Institute of India– One of the largest vaccine producers in the world, the Serum Institute of India is also a leading supplier of paediatric vaccines. It is one of the largest producers of vaccines for measles and diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTP).
  2. Biocon – The company, focusing on biotechnology, has the research and development capabilities to emerge as a vaccine expert in the international market. It has been working on finding new ways to treat diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune diseases. Some of its key research include the development of oral Insulin (IN-105) for diabetes mellitus and a new treatment for rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
  3. Shantha Biotechnics– A major supplier of healthcare products globally, its hepatitis B vaccine, Shanvac-B, has been prequalified by the WHO, Geneva. It is also a supplier of vaccines to organizations such as the UNICEF and PAHO.
  4. Zydus Cadila– A well-known name among pharma manufacturing companies, the company has manufacturing capabilities across the pharma value chain. It manufactures formulations, APIs, vaccines, biosimilars, complex products (transdermals, topical, etc.), animal health products as well as wellness products.

COVID-19 vaccine 

The race to find a vaccine against this deadly disease continues, as the number of infected and fatalities rise. Currently, more than 172 economies are discussing participation in COVAX, a global initiative aimed at providing equitable access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine worldwide.

Countries are collaborating to develop a vaccine. Indian pharma companies have formed partnerships with global players. Some of these are:

  • The Serum Institute of India has inked a contract with the University of Oxford, UK, and British pharma company AstraZeneca to manufacture one billion doses of the vaccine they are working on currently, once it is approved. It is also working on four other vaccine candidates, two of which are in-house. For the other two, the institute has joined hands with biotechnology companies Novovax (based in Gaithersburg, Maryland) and Codagenix (based in Farmingdale, New York).
  • Indian pharma company Biologicals E has signed up with Janssen Pharmaceutica, Belgium, to manufacture the latter’s vaccine candidate after it has been developed and approved. The company is also considering tying up with Houston-based Baylor College of Medicine to manufacture its vaccine candidate post-development.
  • Indian Immunologicals is working with Griffith University in Australia to test and manufacture the university’s vaccine.

Several other companies, either individually or in partnership, are working toward finding a vaccine against COVID-19. Discovery of vaccine is just the first step. Manufacturing one that is both affordable and available adequately would be the priority for most nations. Indian manufacturers have maintained impeccable GMP standards and have prior experience in producing low-cost drugs in large quantities for easy access to all in middle- and low-income countries. Cost comparisons from the past show that India can manufacture some of the most critical vaccines at almost one-fifteenth the cost of manufacturing outside (India).

COVID-19 has presented Indian pharma companies with a brilliant opportunity. If these companies are able to rise to the challenge and deliver a vaccine against the disease, they will create history.

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