Pharma Focus Asia



Dhruv Kumar, Associate Professor, Amity Institute of Molecular Medicine and Stem Cell Research, Amity University Uttar Pradesh, India

Though the viral outbreak is not common but it happens time to time ie. Ebola, Swine Flu, SARS and most recent COVID-19 outbreak. Because of the pandemic outbreak of COVID-19 and global lockdown, the demand and supply of pharma industry has significantly affected due to the shortage of manpower and resources in pharma industry. This kind of viral outbreak negatively regulate the pharma industry which affect the world economy.

Viral outbreaks are not new to the world. Before COVID-19, we had other outbreaks such as Ebola in 2014-2016, Swine Flu (H1N1) in 2009, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2009-2010. But the COVID-19 outbreak became a pandemic, and broke the record of all viral outbreak in past 100 years, forcing the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare health emergency globally. Most of the affected countries have declared global lockdown as a consequence of the high rate of transmission of the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID- 19). In recent weeks, 30 per cent to 40 per cent new cases have been reported in European countries and in USA alone. Whereas, some countries like China, Singapore, Israel, and South Korea are effectively managing and the incidence of new cases have sharply declined. Some countries like India, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey are experiencing controlled rise in new cases in last few weeks. Other parts of the world are also experiencing the exponential rise in new cases. Initially the coronavirus affected the Asian markets largely, but now it has become the global issue.

The aggressive virus control strategies of China and low case load in India has somehow stabilised the coronavirus infection as compared to the rest of the world, mainly USA and European countries. This global lockdown has significantly affected key industries such as oil, industry, and pharma. This is not a completely new experience for the pharma industry. In last few weeks, the public-private partnership has promoted pharma industries around the globe to work in association with Government agencies to solve the COVID-19 issues. This public-private partnership to fight against COVID- 19 is supporting the development of new therapeutic approaches, vaccines development, medical equipment development, and personal protective equipment (PPE) development. As reported by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, several pharma companies are working on the development of vaccines, therapeutic development, and repurposing of drugs which are already FDA approved for other diseases like Ebola and HIV against SARS-CoV-2.

Some companies have identified potential compounds against SARSCoV- 2 and donated compounds with the potential to treat coronavirus patients for emergency use and clinical trials. As per the data available on, there are 902 studies found for SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19, which are currently under consideration for the clinical trials. Several antiviral drugs (ritonavir, remdesivir, favipiravir, umifenovir, triazavirin, sofosbuvir etc.,) antimalarial drugs (chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine), immunomodulators (tocilizumab, adalimumab, eculizumab, sarilumab, ixekizumab, fingolimod, meplazumab, camrelizumab etc.), and other cell- (mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs)) and plasma-based therapies are currently under trial. Pharma companies are taking different approaches in vaccine, therapeutics, and diagnostics development for COVID-19. Pharma companies such as Gilead Lifesciences, Cipla, Glenmark, Dr.Reddys etc., are exploring ways to use existing technologies that provide the ability to rapidly upscale production once a potential vaccine candidate and therapeutic drugs are identified against COVID-19.

In the current situation, pharma and healthcare systems are being put under significant pressure to fulfil the demand of medical equipment, PPE, vaccines, generic medicines and other hospital-related supplies in the critical situation of global lockdown. India is the largest producer of generic medicine and vaccines which require raw materials mainly from China. The global lockdown has already affected the demand and supply of the medicine, and related products due to the shortage of manpower and resources in pharma industry. Now, after five months of COVID-19 outbreak and thousands of deaths, most of the pharma companies in India and China resumed their production lines, but the major concern is countries like India have restricted the export of dozens of medicines; and China has restricted export of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) made from them. APIs are used in antibiotics, vitamins and other essential medicines, and are heavily sourced from China and India. These APIs include mainly aspirin, amoxicillin, paracetamol, azithromycin, ofloxacin, metronidazole, HIV drugs lopinavir and ritonavir, vitamins such as B1, B6, B12 and E, female reproductive hormone progesterone etc.. The main reason of restriction of export of selected medicine was to prevent the domestic shortage of those pharma products in their home country. Most of the big pharma industry are working only from 10 per cent to 30 per cent of their capacity, which has hampered the demand and supply of pharma products globally. The United States is the largest consumer of pharmaceutical product and the restriction in supply of those medicines has hugely impacted the American healthcare systems. In this scarceness, countries like the USA and European countries are planning to bring back the production of hundreds of medicines back to their own house. Though, several countries have resumed their manufacturing of the pharma products, the major concern is interruption in product delivery. The huge restrictions on population movements across the world makes distribution and delivery a huge problem. Even if the manufacturing of an APIs in one country goes well, it has to be moved to another dominion to be processed into a final product. In this incredibly fluid situation, the pharma industry needs to constantly monitor these issues and assess their possible impact for the immediate future as well as long term impact. The industry must think around corners and anticipate problems before they become larger immediate issues. Businesses should revaluate their contracts and plan strategies to minimise the big losses because of this outbreak.

In view of the present situation of COVID-19, the social distancing approach has emerged as one of the best ways to control the spread. But the question is, how long can this go on? In this current scenario, the proper utilisation of the pharma products and health-related medical resources is very important. The very important thing is supply comes after demand.When people stay safely and healthy, there is no need to take extra medicine and extra  medical care. So, in this scenario, the load on pharma industries will be minimised. While drug shortages due to COVID-19 are so far limited and expected to remain in the short-term, if the pandemic continues  then stockpiles of pharmaceuticals, APIs and other chemicals may decrease, resulting in short-term shortages of several pharma products. Further complications come from distribution, particularly with population movement restrictions around the globe. A number of pharma companies are already in huge loss in last few months because of COVID-19.

--Issue 39--

Author Bio

Dhruv Kumar

After completion of B.Sc in Chemistry(Hons) from Banaras Hindu University (BHU), India and M.Sc in Bioinformatics from the University of Allahabad, I completed PhD from the School of Biotechnology at University of Bologna (UNIBO), Italy. I have received postdoctoral training from the School of Medicine at University of Kansas Medical Center, USA. Currently, my lab works on Molecular Medicine, Drug Designing, Drug Development, Translational Cancer Research and Bioinformatics.

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