ImageThe recent outbreak of HINI Influenza A virus (swine flu) in different parts of the world has provided an opportunity to Indian pharmaceutical industry to demonstrate its strength in terms of its ability to alter manufacturing ability in short period.

Domestic pharmaceuticals industry, which is ranked at the fourth place globally in terms of the volume, is known for their flexibility in production and price advantages, it offers.

Indian drug makers claimed that they have enough capacity to produce requisite doses of antiviral drug, oseltamivir, the generic version of Roche’s Tamiflu – the only medicine available to counter H1N1 Influenza A virus (swine flu), at a short notice. Indian companies had demonstrated that they can supply the drug if needed at less than one-tenth of its international price. Most of the Indian companies are selling medicines at a price of around Rs 300 per strip of ten, whereas Roche, which holds the patent right over Tamiflu, is supplying the same drug at price of more than Rs 3,000 per strip.

Major drug-makers like Ranbaxy, Hetero, Natco Pharma and Cipla had said they have the capacity to provide over two million capsules in the next few weeks.

Large pharmaceutical firms such as Ranbaxy, Cipla and Roche have capacities to manufacture the number of doses required in the country. Indian Drug Manufacturers Association Executive Director Gajanan Wakankar informed. Any domestic company that is currently producing anti-bacterial drug can easily produce the generic version of Tamiflu, with minor changes in their production line, Wakankar said.

Gurgaon-based Ranbaxy said it can produce one million capsules in the next few weeks. Ranbaxy can provide one million capsules in the next few weeks to the Government of India. If further supplies are required, Ranbaxy is in a position to meet the demand in the coming few weeks, Ranbaxy Laboratories President Ramesh Adige said.

Cipla Chairman and Managing Director Y K Hamied informed that, there is enough capacity in the country to meet the demand. If needed, we can produce 1.5 million doses of Antiflu (Cipla’s a branded generic version of Tamiflu) in four to six weeks time, he said. According to industry experts, the real strength which Indian companies demonstrated during the recent crisis was its ability to change production line in a short period. Another important factor of Indian companies, which is mostly undermined by the developed countries is that, while shifting the production line in a short notice, domestic pharma majors were still able to maintain the comparative price advantage. This strength is also visible from the fact that none of the government official and other health organization have ever expressed fear about the lack of availability of medicines in case of emergencies.

Whereas health officials and other agencies working in developed countries had expressed fear that in case of large-scale outbreak of the virus, there is going to be shortage of medicines. As the local industry might not be able to produce the drug in such large quantity and it would take at least 10-15 weeks for them to shift the production line.

Indian pharmaceutical companies are also pressing hard for the government to allow them to sell the drug in the retail market, industry sources said. The current directive from the government restricts companies from making the drug available in the open market through chemists and pharmacies that are either standalone or part of a private hospital.

“We can sell only to government hospitals or directly to the government. This is not enough, as it will not reach a large audience. If we have to sell directly to the government it has to be via a tender process,” a senior official of one of the oseltamivir producing companies said.

Industry observers say that the government’s rationale behind the decision is to ensure that people do not stock up the drug and misuse it.

An official at another drug company that also makes the generic version of tamiflu said that although there is a possibility of panic buying even by people who do not need it that is unlikely in the current scenario.

Health ministry joint secretary Vineet Choudhary reiterated that the drugs would continue to be supplied through government hospitals and health centre’s and will not be available in retail market.

Oseltamivir is an antiviral drug that is used in the treatment of both Influenzavirus A and Influenzavirus B. It is a neuraminidase inhibitor and acts as a transition-state analogue inhibitor of influenza neuraminidase, preventing progeny virions from emerging from infected cells. The importance of early treatment is that the protein inhibition is more effective within the first 48 hours. Keeping this in mind, industry observers feel that making the drug available only in government hospitals will make access to medication difficult for people.