Express Pharma

What COVID-19 taught us

In this year-ender edition, experts reflect on the biggest lessons for India Pharma Inc from the current pandemic

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Pandemics like the Bubonic plague and the Spanish Flu were followed by sweeping social, economic and cultural transformations. They also galvanised great improvements in medical science and public policy.

Today, the world confronts and battles another pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus and again this period could be marked by great change and reforms.

Therefore, this year-ender edition, which also marks Express Pharma’s 26th Anniversary, presents some insights and learnings which will be crucial for India Pharma Inc to survive and thrive in the post-pandemic world.

The pandemic gave the pharma industry an opportunity to reassess its role

Sudarshan Jain, Secretary-General, Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA)

COVID-19 pandemic is one of the greatest humanitarian challenges. We are learning about the virus and the virus is spreading at an unprecedented rate.

While the pandemic posed several new challenges, it also gave the pharma industry an opportunity to reassess its role and emerge as a reliable supplier of high-quality, affordable medicines. This has been a period of significant learning for the Indian industry on all fronts.

Collaboration is the key: The industry worked relentlessly to provide an uninterrupted supply of medicines in India and across the world. The integrated efforts by the industry, Government of India and other stakeholders such as transporters, supply chain partners made it possible for a quick turn-around.

Proactiveness – the need of the hour: The pandemic demanded agility and proactiveness. This began by classifying medicines as essential goods to manufacture and transport including applying for emergency approvals for manufacturing and testing for newer treatments.

Innovation paved the way: The industry responded promptly by evaluating possible utilisation of available drugs (repurpose drugs) and exploring more innovative approaches. Indian companies are engaged in developing indigenous vaccines that are currently undergoing testing for efficacy and safety.

Resilience in the supply chain: We have to be self-reliant in the API landscape to ensure a continuous supply of medicine which is fundamental for the healthcare security

The Indian pharma industry is an asset and is committed as a consistent and reliable supplier of life-saving medicines to India and the world. As truly the ‘Pharmacy of the World, India will continue to be at the forefront to be of service to the nation and the world.

There is a renewed realisation of the need to invest in public health

Charu Sehgal, Partner and Lifesciences and Healthcare Industry Leader, Deloitte India

Great adversity also brings disruption and discovery. The pandemic has held lessons for humanity, governments, individuals and businesses.

The industry at the centre of it has been the life sciences and healthcare industry. From testing to prevention and from treatment to monitoring it has been a complex web of collaboration and cooperation between academia, research organisations, global public health bodies, pharma, medical technology and healthcare delivery players.

The first realisation has been of the criticality of the healthcare sector especially of public health. It was assumed that issues of public health impacted the poor and the rural and therefore it did not interest the elite as much. However, it is for the first time that the rich are looking up at public health institutions for updates on its spread or data on deaths or cure of even advice on prevention. It has therefore brought to the forefront the need for governments to invest on public health institutions including epidemiology, research and development and public health delivery

Second, has been the rapid increase in collaborations and alliances across the world. In an attempt to find vaccines and treatment drugs governments across countries have collaborated with global public health and research institutions as well as with large businesses to expedite the discovery of solutions. Not only that, there has been an amazing increase in the speed of granting approvals and cutting of inefficiencies in order to facilitate the processes. I feel the world will only build on this spirit of leveraging each other’s strengths and working towards a greater good.

Third, has been the need to reimagine supply chains and build more resilience. Over-reliance on a few countries or geographies, especially for life-saving items like drugs and medical supplies, can lead to a crisis in times of a disruption in that part like it did in the case of China lockdown. Across the world businesses and nations are figuring out how to diversify their supply chains. Some are looking inwards others are shifting suppliers. The call for self-reliant India is a fall out of this realisation. This pandemic has led to the Indian government providing a strong focus and incentives for strengthening the pharma and medical device industry, including helping them move up the value chain to become self-reliant as well as to offer an alternative manufacturing hub for the world.

Four, for the first time, given the lack of visibility into the future, the companies were unable to plan for the long term. It led to companies becoming more agile as well as being prepared for many scenarios. Decision making had to be decentralised. Short term solutions and Innovations were encouraged. This again will change the way businesses think and plan.

Five, the pandemic brought home the stark and depressing reality of the large number of people who live on the edge, especially in India. The need to provide a social security net to the millions whose very existence was threatened by the disruption on economic activity was recognised the world over.

Six, a significant change which is here to stay has been the acceptance of Work from Home  It has proved to be the biggest disruption and all levels and all types of work has been successfully done from home  Technology has been geared up to tackle all issues of infrastructure connectivity and security. Most companies admit that they will never go back to the same level of office space in the future.

The last significant change has been the acceleration of the digital transformation of businesses and households. Telemedicine, online teaching, e-commerce and fintech have emerged in a big way. It is unlikely that these trends will be reversed.

To conclude, the world has changed forever. Several business paradigms have been changed and new realities emerged. On the one hand, the importance of cooperation for the larger good has emerged but so has the need for self-reliance. There is a renewed realisation of the need to invest in public health.

Learning, adaptability, flexibility, collaboration and innovation are key to success

Yugal Sikri, MD, RPG Life Sciences

The COVID-19 pandemic has given a body blow to the status quo, challenging almost all the factors of business –demand, supply, the way we work, our attitude towards communities, the way we look at innovation etc.  While this unprecedented crisis hit everyone, we grew richer with a slew of learnings such as:

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