Wednesday, March 29, 2023
HomeHealthDemand for Covid vaccines, hydroxychloroquine pushes India's pharma exports to 5-year high

Demand for Covid vaccines, hydroxychloroquine pushes India’s pharma exports to 5-year high

Exports are expected to rise by over 16% this fiscal. The industry recorded less than 3% growth in 2014-15 and 2017-18. In 2016-17, there was negative growth of 0.59%.

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New Delhi: Boosted by the demand for Covid-19 vaccines and drugs such as hydroxychloroquine, which were being used to treat patients in the initial stages of the pandemic, India looks set to break its pharmaceutical export record of the last nine years. Exports in fiscal year 2020-21 have already been the highest in the last five years, but a bigger achievement seems in the offing, according to government data.

“Between April 2020 and February 2021, we have already done business worth $21.5 billion, an increase of about 12.5 per cent compared to the $19.15 billion worth of exports during the corresponding period in the last fiscal,” Udaya Bhaskar, director-general, Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council of India (Pharmexcil), told ThePrint.

“We are expecting exports to cross $24 billion for FY-2021, a growth of over 16 per cent from the last fiscal,” Bhaskar added. This includes all commercial consignments of Covid drugs and vaccines, such as hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), the anti-malarial drug being used to treat Covid patients in the initial stages of the pandemic and the Covid vaccine, Covishield.

Pharmexcil was set up in 2004 under the provisions of the Foreign Trade Policy, to promote pharmaceutical exports from India, and functions under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry

While the rise in export figures is not phenomenal, it is the highest growth since the 2012-13 fiscal, when the pharmaceuticals industry had recorded a growth in exports of 24.75 per cent. This was followed by single-digit growth in three fiscal years and negative growth in one fiscal.

Exports were weak even in the first part of 2020, but picked up with the demand for HCQ in the first phase of the pandemic, followed by exports of Covid vaccines. Between last April and this February, India has exported $21.5 billion (Rs 1,50,500 crore) worth of pharmaceuticals, recording a growth of over 12.5 per cent against the same period in the last fiscal.

Also read: India ‘pharmacy to world’ but sector is fragmented, unorganised — foreign firms’ lobby says

Top importers

US, South Africa, UK, Russia, Germany, Nigeria, Brazil, Canada, France, and the Netherlands have been India’s biggest customers for pharmaceuticals in the past 10 months.

“Apart from Covid vaccines, this year India’s vaccine exports mostly comprise essential medicines for scheduled immunisation programmes. A large part of our exports are through NGOs serving in Africa, Latin American countries, and Asia. These three continents contribute to 80 per cent of our vaccine exports,” Bhaskar said.

“Almost 60 per cent of the vaccine requirements of the World Health Organization (WHO) are sourced from India and 90 per cent of measles vaccines administered around the world are supplied by Indian companies,” he added.

Pharmexcil does not have separate data on exports of Covid-related drugs and vaccines. Data from Pharmexil show that the industry recorded around 18 per cent growth in the export of drug formulations and 2.5 per cent growth in vaccines between April 2020 and Feb 2021.

The export of drug formulations between April 2019 and February 2020 was worth $13.8 billion (Rs 96,600 crore), which increased to $16.3 billion (Rs 1,14,100 crore) between April 2020 to February 2021, a hike of 18 per cent.

The export of vaccines increased to $772.5 million (Rs 5407 crore) in the past ten months, from $753.8 million (Rs 5271 crore) in the corresponding period of the last fiscal, a jump of 2.5 per cent.

Also read: Why there’s no stopping the spectacular rise of this Indian pharma company

Why the lull

According to the data from the past 10 years, the highest growth in pharmaceutical exports was during the 2012-13 fiscal — around 25 per cent.

But the following years saw a drop in growth in exports. The industry recorded growth of less than 3 per cent in 2014-15 and 2017-18. In 2016-17, there was negative growth of 0.59 per cent.

Industry experts attributed the modest growth to frequent concerns raised by the foreign regulators, especially the American Food and Drug Administration (US FDA), regarding manufacturing processes and quality of medicines during this time.

For instance, from spotting moths in raw materials, to finding bacteria-contaminated water being used in the manufacturing process and revealing attempts to destroy quality control records by manufactures, the US FDA had found several reasons to slap Indian drug-makers with warnings in the past — the highest number of such warnings, 23, came in 2019.

Owing to the frequent checks, and letters of warning issued, Indian drug makers have been facing delays in introducing new products in foreign markets since 2012.

The pressing demand for medicines and vaccines during the Covid pandemic has, however, helped the Indian pharmaceuticals company regain business and boosted exports.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: Indian pharma firms Zydus, Alembic recall 2 drugs in US over ‘life-threatening’ consequences


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