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India could avert medicine shortage as bulk drugs start arriving from coronavirus-hit China

While major supply has started arriving through sea, some cargoes 'airlifted' by the government on behalf of pharma companies have also started coming in.

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New Delhi: India can now avert a shortage of medicines as essential raw materials required for drug production have started arriving in India from coronavirus-hit China, ThePrint has learnt.

An industry official working with a Mumbai-based pharma company, which is expecting its shipments through water soon, told ThePrint that both the active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and key starting materials (KSMs) have started arriving from the water routes. “It’s good news as there will be no shortages in the production of medicines due to disruption in supplies through China,” he said.

APIs, also known as bulk drugs, are chemical compounds that are the most important raw material to produce a finished medicine.

In medicine, API produces the intended effects to cure the disease. For instance, Paracetamol is the API for Crocin that gives relief from body aches and fever.

Krishna Prasad Chigurupati, chairman and managing director of Granules India, the country’s leading producer of APIs, told CNBC-TV18, “We have inventory for another 10 days but materials are arriving. So, there could be a gap of about 2-3 days without inventory but the shipments are already on the water and we should be getting them by next week. So, I don’t see any issue with inventories as well.”

Granules India is a major supplier of Paracetamol in India.

“Airlifting of some products is happening. Air freights have gone up, the prices have gone up and there could be an increase in cost of raw materials. But as far as our products are concerned there is absolutely no issue, everything is coming by sea,” Chigurupati said.

While the major supply has started arriving through sea routes, some cargoes ‘airlifted’ by the government on behalf of pharmaceutical companies have also started arriving.

Companies such as Mumbai based Cipla and Abbott had reached out to the Dr Eswara Reddy-led committee monitoring the supply of APIs to “pick up” their raw materials.

The committee then requested the Ministry of Civil Aviation to airlift the cargo, which has now started delivering the requested products. “Industry will pay the government for airlifting their products. It’s expensive but it won’t affect the retail prices,” said the first official quoted above.

Indian drug makers import around 70 per cent of their total bulk drugs requirements from China. In the 2018-19 fiscal, the government had informed the Lok Sabha that the country’s drug makers had imported bulk drugs and intermediates worth $2.4 billion from China.

Also read: India could ‘withdraw’ curbs on drug exports as pharma firms fear loss of business

Fear of medicine shortages

According to a report by Hong Kong-based equity research firm Haitong International Securities Group, every “single” Indian pharma company will be impacted by shortage of raw materials if coronavirus-hit China fails to resume drug production soon.

There are fears that a shortage of essential medicines — including those for HIV, cancer, epilepsy and malaria — might kick in if affected supply chains in coronavirus-struck China don’t normalise soon.

With the Indian pharmaceutical industry majorly dependent on China for supply of raw materials, the report said firms producing drugs for HIV, cancer, epilepsy, malaria, commonly-used antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs are likely to be highly affected.

“Indian industry is so intertwined that it is impossible in our view to find a single player that would not be impacted by Chinese API intermediate shortages, should these materialise from post-mid-March,” the paper titled ‘India Pharmaceuticals: Coronavirus Impact’ notes.

Also read: Paracetamol, other drugs to battle coronavirus widely available in India for next 3 months

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