Express Pharma

What UPI did to consumers and businesses, UPHI will do to healthcare

Suresh Subramanian, Partner, National Life Sciences Leader at EY India speaks on making India Pharma Inc more 'value-driven' and shares his view on key focus areas such as expansion of PLI and RLI schemes, investments in R&D and innovation, power of emerging technologies, growth opportunities in newer areas like nutraceuticals etc, in an interaction with Viveka Roychowdhury

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The COVID-19 pandemic proved India’s ability as a global vaccine manufacturer, providing safe and affordable vaccines. How can we capitalise on these abilities?

Yes, India has established its prowess in vaccine manufacturing which has been possible due to concerted efforts of the scientific community, the government, and the private sector. Even before the pandemic surged in India, the Indian pharma industry contributed to 62 per cent of the global demand for vaccines. However, with the COVID-19 vaccine, we have lived up to not only being the “archetype of frugal innovation” but manufacturing at scale, but with exceptionally faster turnaround and great efficiency. The digitisation effort through the Co-Win app enabled implementation, equitable distribution and consumer guidance of availability, next doses and helped in governance on infection control mechanisms (vaccine passport as one may want to call it) the scale and speed of which the world had not seen before.

India can play a huge role towards creating “vaccine equity” by providing access to countries or regions such as Africa, Latin America which are facing acute shortages of these vaccines. Adult immunisation/vaccination could be also another way to capitalise on these abilities. Given the younger population in the country, spread of communicable diseases more so after the pandemic and the lack of healthcare accessibility in the hinterland, this could be a cost-effective strategy towards primary care for public health. With concerted efforts from government, public and private enterprises this could be realised.

Pharma companies in India are still not self-sufficient in APIs and the increasing number of COVID cases in China has already resulted in price hikes and shortages of certain key starting materials and APIs. What can be done to speed up the implementation of schemes like the PLI initiative to scale up API capability?

The current PLI scheme has an outlay of close to one billion dollars with an aim to substitute 90 per cent of API import and develop API sufficiency for domestic and become suppliers to the world. While the long-term objectives of the scheme are robust there has been a low to moderate response with only a few companies in the top tier and at the bottom getting a go at it. The key is to open again and expand, attract more investment from the middle market where a lot of players can be encouraged to come in and shape a global play. This will help get more players in and drive the cause. The last couple of years have seen PEs’ interest in the area and will remain an interesting space to watch. At hand is not only reducing cost but also an entire China plus one global opportunity which we can encash with backward integration in API.

Pharma companies in India have always been price warriors but the branded generics space is today crowded with competition from other nations like Vietnam etc. How can India’s pharma sector move up the value chain, into segments like biologics, speciality pharma etc? What will be the investments that need to be made and a realistic timeline to see success?

The investment must be in R&D and innovation space to move up the value chain and become a “value-driven” industry from a volume-driven industry. This may require setting up an overarching regulatory body and central body to financing from all government bodies, exploring new models for financing R&D to increase private investments and make funds available for high-risk/long-term projects. We are already seeing partnerships with academia by the industry. ImmunoAct (a Laurus Labs investee company) is a Delhi IIT initiative on CarT cell therapy heralding India‘s arrival in cell and gene therapy. Immuneel and other innovator start-ups will lead India’s foray into this.

Perhaps there are more models to look at like one in the Massachusetts Life Sciences Innovation ecosystem. Also, to establish a strong innovation ecosystem, the role of the government in terms of encouragement and instituting an RLI is being actively considered by the DoP and pushed by the industry. The industry will do well to join hands to mobilise action with the government.

COVID-19 was a huge disrupter to the pharma supply chain and procurement practices. How can pharma companies deploy technology to prevent and resolve such challenges?

The major challenge which the pharma industry faced during Covid times was the inability to capture external data in real-time and synthesise it into actionable and visual insights to enable rapid and better decision-making. To enable improvement across the value chain, moving from linear and serial monoliths to an interconnected network of digital supply networks to enable end-to-end visibility, collaboration, responsiveness, agility and optimisation will be key. Complicated as it may seem this is being attempted and soon to be a reality by the Govt of India through ABDM under the aegis of the NHA. It is predicted what UPI did to consumers and businesses, UPHI (under ABDM) will do to healthcare consumers and the industry.

Pharma companies must leverage Industry 4.0 practices, IOT and sensors. The ability to create data lakes and provide analytics will be key. AI tools can mine and analyse data from multiple sources to detect patterns and potential anomalies to generate demand forecasts and identify potential disruptions like Covid-19. Using these early indications, possible preventive actions can be identified driving better decision-making and action.

Real-Time Location System in distribution channels will provide insight to track and trace, in real-time, the movement of goods and packages from the suppliers, manufacturers, warehouses and hubs to the end customer preventing any major disruptions. This will reveal logistics supply