A new year should be the time for a new start. But with the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 leading to a worldwide increase in cases, 2022 begins for the pharmaceutical industry with much the same, as it implements the skills gained over the past two years and “planned. in uncertainty â.
âWho would have thought, three years later, that we would still be talking about these things,â says one industry veteran, capturing the sentiment expressed by many. After all, how do you plan for a pandemic when there is a moving target.
“It’s difficult. [Covid-19] cases are increasing again, as is demand for products. Despite planning for, say, 10,000 cases, the demand would increase if it increased to 6 lakh per day, âsaid SudarshanJain, a member of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA), on the day the United States reported more than 6 lakh per day. ‘a million cases per day.
Despite the planning, businesses around the world will need to think and adapt to keep pace with growing demand, he says. India has the manufacturing capabilities but, given the rapidly changing requirements, the 25 members of the IPA (representing the major national drug manufacturers) have a supply chain group that meets every fifteen. days to look at the movement of stock in distribution channels, to see if stocks were going down, the movement of trucks in the field, attendance at factories, etc., he said. And it could become a weekly routine, if need be.
Taking stock at this level, he explains, helps cope with increased needs if, for example, there are rolling peaks in Covid-19 cases across the country. Currently there is no shortage, but there is an increase in demand for paracetamol and vitamins, for example.
Compared to the early days of the pandemic, he says issues with the movement of trucks across the country etc. have been resolved through constant communication between industry and federal departments. âRight now, it doesn’t appear that there is an increase in demand for oxygen and hospital beds like in Wave 2. However, [Omicronâs] high transmissibility will pose challenges to ensure staff safety, as quarantine periods can keep people away from factories, âJain explains.
“There is no choice, measures have been put in place and we have to fend for ourselves,” said Daara Patel, member of the Indian Drug Manufacturers‘ Association, on behalf of small and medium-sized businesses. Drug manufacturers maintain a buffer stock and store APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients).
âBut these prices are skyrocketing,â he said, echoing the exact words of many in the industry. In some cases, input costs have doubled, says a representative of a pharmaceutical company, urging the government to step in and cushion the blow because they cannot raise drug prices at this stage of a pandemic.
As it honed its skills over the past two years, the industry is working on “educated guesswork” and “forecasting under uncertainty,” says Kedar Upadhye, global chief financial officer of Cipla, a drugmaker with a strong portfolio of products related to Covid-19, including exclusive agreements on Roche’s tocilizumab and the antibody cocktail.
When there are more than five drug manufacturers making a product, such as remdesivir or the antiviral molnupiravir, the supply pressure is âcoveredâ. Besides API buffers, in some cases businesses are “overstocked” to prepare for increased demand, he said.
The challenge lies in the manufacturing, if even a large percentage of people have to be quarantined due to infection, he agrees. âWe deal with it through a sequential list of people,â he says, referring to changes and phased systems to detect early symptoms.
Lessons from the previous wave are working for businesses, says Sujay Shetty, PwC’s healthcare industries leader, where âsupply chain resilienceâ (producing more than needed) is key, as opposed to effective just-in-time approach.
Beyond material, container and freight issues, there is a real concern about human resources, observes Shetty. If there is another increase, pharmaceutical plant personnel are front-line workers and their safety is critical, he says, adding that “there is only so much you can plan for when something goes wrong. pandemic. âThe industry wants booster shots for plant workers, channel distributors and chemists.
Meanwhile, representatives are closely monitoring developments overseas, particularly in South Africa, where Omicron was first reported. The sharp increase in cases followed by a drop, they say, gives hope.