Children wearing facial masks, as a precaution after Nepal confirmed the first case of coronavirus in the country, attend a lecture at Matribhumi School in Thimi, Bhaktapur, Nepal on Wednesday | ANI/Reuters
New Delhi: The supply of raw materials to produce top-selling antibiotics, anti-diabetic medicines and commonly used paracetamol could be hit in India if the deadly coronavirus spreads through China.
Indian drugmakers import around 70 per cent of their total bulk drugs from China. The bulk drugs, also known as the active pharmaceutical ingredients (API), are the raw materials for the manufacture of drugs. For example, paracetamol is the API for Crocin.
In the 2018-19 fiscal, the government had informed the Lok Sabha that the country’s drugmakers imported bulk drugs and intermediates worth $2.4 billion from China.
“Several cities in China are locked. We expect our shipments to be delayed and the latest order dispatches will not take place on time. There could be a shortage of bulk drugs till normalcy is restored in China,” B.R. Sikri, president, Federation of Pharmaceutical Entrepreneurs (FOPE), told ThePrint.
The FOPE is the lobby of big, medium and small pharma companies and represents top Indian drugmakers, including Mankind Pharma, Aurobindo Pharmaceuticals and Macleods Pharma.
“The top products for which the supply could be constrained include antibiotics such as cephalosporins and penicillin G, commonly used paracetamol and anti-diabetic drug metformin apart from various other medicines,” Sikri added.
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Stocks may not last beyond February
In anticipation of China’s national leave for Lunar New Year (the Chinese New Year that fell on 25 January), the Indian firms kept themselves adequately stocked, which is likely to last through February only.
“While so far there are no indications of any short supplies, we are monitoring the situation closely. In case the outbreak continues beyond February, it may cause concerns,” said Ashok Madan, executive director, Indian Drug Manufacturers’ Association (IDMA), a lobby representing over 1,000 pharmaceutical companies, including Sun Pharma, Cadila Healthcare, Alkem Pharma and Micro Labs.
Apart from the shortage of raw materials, the pharma industry also expects an increase in the prices of medicines by 15-20 per cent.
“Importers may start hoarding the products in India and as a result, there will be a hike in the prices,” Sikri said.
Zhejiang reported the first case of coronavirus
The majority of the production units for bulk drugs are situated in Zhejiang province in China, which is 600 km away from the city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.
But it was Zhejiang that reported the first coronavirus case after a 46-year-old man was infected with it. He was later cured.
“Considering the spread of the disease, China may also shut Zhejiang. Apart from humanitarian concerns, we are worried about the virus spreading in China due to business concerns as well,” said an official from a Mumbai-based pharma company, who doesn’t want to be named.
“The situation must get better soon so that the Chinese government doesn’t shut the parts of the country (located) along the transit routes,” he added.
Drugmakers in the US also rattled
Not just Indian drugmakers, even those in the US are worried.
In America, roughly 80 per cent of bulk drugs used by commercial sources to produce finished medicines come from China.
The growing infection from the novel virus has raised concerns among the drugmakers about “the adequate production and supplies of active ingredients going forward, as well as the extent to which shipments can be made if transit hubs are out of commission”.
“The time to worry is now,” said Steven Lynn, a former director of the Food and Drug Administration Office of Pharmaceutical Quality, in a STAT report.
“I would be asking my supply chain folks what do we have coming from China, what’s our inventory, and if we don’t have enough, can we get as much as fast possible? And remember, this isn’t just a US problem. It’s a global problem if China starts shutting down its borders,” he said.
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