India is playing a pivotal role in supplying essential medicines to the world while making distribution more efficient and responsive in the country. During the onset of the pandemic, the industry adapted to the dynamic situation and promptly took measures to continue the production of medicines despite restricted movements by ensuring that all safety norms for its employees are followed. The industry rose to the challenges and demonstrated its capabilities in responding to the crisis by identifying and implementing innovative and collaborative solutions.
The industry is working continuously to ensure the availability of life-saving medicines. With a sudden rise in demand for critical COVID-19 drugs during the second wave of the pandemic, the Indian pharma companies maintained resilience and agility in supply chain and ensured the requirement of Vitamins, antibiotics, painkillers, blood thinners needed for patients and ramped up production of some medicines such as remdesivir used on treating COVID-19.
Strengthening global cooperation/collaboration
The pandemic highlighted that health systems need strengthening not only in India but even in the most advanced economies. Cooperation across geographies can help us create a global response mechanism to meet the patient needs in situations like COVID-19 pandemic.
We witnessed collaboration among global pharma stakeholders to fast-track the COVID-19 research and production of drugs and vaccines. Globally and in India, pharma companies took big leaps to revamp the production capabilities and meet the surging demand. The new models of collaboration are amalgamating experience, knowledge, technology and other crucial aspects or drug manufacturing and delivery. Going forward, it will be crucial to ensure that such crucial collaborations and partnerships are fast-tracked to respond to any public health emergency.
Strategic partnerships between global pharma companies are essential in fighting diseases and discovering faster ways of getting drugs to the patients. For instance, in May 2020 US-based Gilead Sciences entered into licensing agreement with several Indian pharma companies to produce Remdesivir in India and further expand supply and manufacturing capabilities.
We are also witnessing increased global cooperation among world leaders in fighting the pandemic and ensuring vaccine availability across geographies. The recent announcements by Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) and G7 countries to improve vaccine accessibility have been a welcome and positive step towards achieving vaccine coverage for all.
Furthermore, the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver along with technology transfer on Covid-19 vaccines can be a game-changer for equitable distribution of vaccines and our fight against new variants. If granted, the patent waiver with technology transfer may help to harness unutilized capacities for the production of vaccines. The voluntary licensing arrangement between the companies is also likely to increase the vaccine availability. Some of the examples for this case are Sputnik V with RFID and Gamaleya National Research Center, Serum Institute with AstraZeneca, and Biological E with Johnson & Johnson.
The Road Ahead
We need to be prepared for a possible third wave and apply learnings from the first and second waves. Keeping an inventory of medicines will play an important role for the nation to help during future exigencies and serve the needs of the population. Indian pharma companies have already accelerated the production of key COVID-19 drugs to meet the patient demand if the third wave strikes. While the industry is ensuring the supply, other stakeholders including the government would be required to support these efforts.
With an established network of pharmaceutical manufacturers, India has the opportunity for international collaboration in drug discovery, innovation, and R&D. The industry is taking bold steps towards building capabilities on the quality front, building trust with regulators such as US FDA and other authorities to achieve equity in healthcare delivery globally. Development in these areas will improve India’s potential to manufacture complex generics, specialty pharma, biosimilars, and novel biological drugs, vaccines, and more.