Smart Pharma: Can India become the world’s pharmacy?

In 2020, India’s pharma industry found itself thrust into the centre stage amidst a black swan event in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then the pharma industry world-over is being re-imagined with digitization, new technologies, and patient-centric healthcare models. The importance of having an innovation ecosystem in healthcare has also been brought to the fore. The confluence of these changing market dynamics has meant that the Indian pharma industry is poised for a big leap forward in this decade if it follows a SMART approach.  SMART is an acronym for Safety, Marketing, Access, Research, and Technology and these are the facets being focussed upon by the Pharma industry. According to FICCI and EY, the Indian pharmaceutical sector is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12% from US$41.7 billion in 2020 to USD 130 billion in 2030.

Today, Indian pharmaceutical firms supply more than 60% of the world’s vaccines; they fulfil 40% of the demand for generics in the United States, and 25% of all the medication used in the United Kingdom. According to Sudarshan Jain, Secretary General, IPA, “India has the largest number of the USFDA-approved plants outside the USA – more than 600 – nearly 1,400 WHO-GMP-compliant plants, and 252 approved by the European Directorate of Quality Medicines. That is a testament to the quality of the medicines Indian companies make who supply over 80 percent of antiretroviral drugs used to combat HIV/AIDS. Their medicines save millions of lives and are affordable for millions of others.”

Undoubtedly, Indian companies have increased their thrust on innovation and have accelerated digitization efforts; this has been done in every sphere of manufacturing, from raw materials sourcing to the laboratory, to the logistics of pharmaceuticals for commercial use. Ostensibly, at present, the virus-vaccine relationship and the advances in COVID-19 vaccine research are key areas of emphasis.  India’s path towards vaccine research would also espouse greater significance in the global pharma context.  “As the COVID-19 virus spreads to more people, the more chances it has to mutate. Some variants transmit the disease more effectively than others. Some experts have wondered about the effectiveness of current vaccines against the highly transmissible variants which cause severe forms of the disease,” observes Professor S S Vasan, Project Leader, Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP), Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

Technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning have significantly improved the speed of vaccine research. Another novel way of vaccine testing being considered in India is waste-water epidemiology, (collecting waste water from public toilets). According to Professor S S Vasan, waste-water epidemiology is an effective way of identifying the local spread of viruses.

Apart from innovation, producing and supplying quality pharmaceutical drugs is another critical facet for the success of India’s pharma industry. Phanikar Bhaskar Krishna, Head – Product Management Group, Caliber Technologies says, “We live in the age of the fourth industrial revolution, a time when digital solutions applied to manufacturing processes make huge improvements in product quality. The basic principle here is that by connecting machines and systems, we can create intelligent networks along the value chain that can control and reinforce each other, making big leaps in quality. In other words, digitalisation enables integrated quality management.”

Across India’s pharma value chain, technology has been a huge enabler where everything – diagnostics to treatment to drug delivery, is undergoing a transition for the better. In the short term, the pharma sector is expected to enhance availability, accessibility, and affordability and in the long term, it shall lead to more personalized healthcare outcomes with data analytics. It’s a seismic shift for the pharma sector in every possible way.

Excerpts have been taken from the ET Smart Pharma Virtual Summit 2021. To discover more insights, read the complete report created in collaboration with our Knowledge Partner, Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance.

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