India’s cooperation with neighbouring countries for vaccine development

by Surbhi Arora - 21 January, 2021, 12:00 2233 Views 0 Comment

In 1969, the Indian pharmaceutical industry had a 5 percent share of the market and the global pharma industry had a 95 percent share. By 2020, it is the reverse, with Indian pharma having an almost 85 percent share and global, 15 percent. Over these years the Indian pharmaceutical industry has build-up its position both in terms of meeting the domestic needs as well as building a leading position in the landscape of the global pharmaceutical.

Indian drug companies are major manufacturers of vaccines distributed worldwide, supplying more than 60% of vaccines to the developing world. The Indian pharmaceuticals market is the third-largest in terms of volume and the 13th largest in terms of value. India has a competitive advantage in this industry due to the availability of huge raw material base and skilled workforce.Indian pharmaceutical industry is expected to export medicines and other goods worth over $25 billion in the current financial year; up from $20.5 billion in 2019-20.

During the first six months of the current financial year, Indian pharmaceutical exports were $11.38 billion, nearly 15 percent more than that in the same period last year. Indian pharma exportisa highly regulated market and thus, this increase is considered quite significant. India is the largest supplier of generic medicines globally in the range of 20–22% of the global export volume.India has exported US$ 3.89 billion of Bulk Drugs & Drug intermediates in FY20.

In this pandemic, the Indian pharmaceutical industry is doing quite well for two main reasons i.e. firstly, in the generic medicine front, India is capable of producing quality medicines at affordable prices, and secondly, on the COVID-19 vaccine front, most of the Indian vaccine companies are working closely with academic institutions and industry outside India. A major advantage for India is that it can produce COVID-19 vaccines in large volumes. India also has one of the lowest manufacturing costs in the world. It is lower than that of USA and almost half of Europe.

Another aspect worth noting is that at the beginning of COVID-19, Indian was not capable of producing N95 masks, PPE kits and other devices required for fighting the pandemic. However, India rose to the occasion and now the Indian industry is capable of manufacturing all these in adequate quantities. Similar is the case with syringes for COVID-19 vaccines. Both the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine produced by Serum Institute of India and Covaxin by Bharat Biotech India Ltd.are two-dose vaccines. If the entire population of India is to be covered we have to produce 260 crore syringes.

India had sent a message of collaborative unity during the COVID-19 world crisis through various initiatives. New regional links were created through virtual summits by reviving SAARC and encouraging the G20. Pharmaceutical aid for 123 countries and repatriation help for neighbours and friends has been provided. India demonstrated diplomatic outreach by dispatching consignments of anti-malarial drughydroxychloroquine to African, Latin American and Central Asian nations including even developed economies such as France, Russia, US and the UK.India made available the supplies through special Indian Air Force flights, foreign evacuation charters and even diplomatic cargos. India even sent teams of Indian military doctors to countries like Nepal, Maldives and Kuwait.

Indian medical staff has also been conducting online training for their counterparts from other SAARC countries, thereby helping them in building their essential capacities.India, Bangladesh and Myanmar have also come together to collaborate on the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. This will give a boost to India’s `Neighbourhood First’ and `Act East Policy’. Last month,the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Anurag Srivastava said, “Two training modules for our neighbouring countries have been organized. Around 90 health experts and scientists have participated. And the plan is to expand these programmes to other countries which are interested”.

Top officials from the Ministry of External Affairs as well as related agencies have had meetings with the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar on the possible joint production, distribution and supply of COVID-19 vaccine. From17th to 19thOctober 2020, a delegation from the concerned departments was in Bangladesh They met with their Bangladeshi counterparts on the current stage of the vaccine. The two sides discussed the modalities of clinical trials in Bangladesh.With Myanmar, Indian officials had a virtual interaction in that country’s interest in cooperation in the COVID-19 vaccines. As the vaccine development evolves the two countries will decide the modalities of cooperation.Depending on the trials, India plans to expand the cooperation with other countries in clinical trials, capacity building for vaccine development, and later in production and delivery.

India has been providing pharma assistance to nearly 85 countries on a grant basis to help them tide over the pandemic. India played a major role in the global health matrix during this time of a global health crisis that has been quite substantive and its ‘medical diplomacy’ in particular has highlighted the critical role.Prime Minister Narendra Modi, since the beginning of this pandemic, was convinced that though the domestic situation would clearly be a priority with some tough measures, India will continue to make a case for global engagement and coordination.

Many countries were preoccupied and were managing the internal crisis brought about by the pandemic and did not give global engagement a priority. And at that point, India offered to evacuate people from all the neighbouring countries while bringing back Indian students from the Chinese city of Wuhan in the early stages of this pandemic. Continous contact was maintained with all Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries that together hosting over 50 lakh Indians and sending back remittances worth over $40 billion every year. After several Gulf countries requested the supply of medicines like HCQ and paracetamol, India has tried to ensure steady supplies to these nations.

All these show that India has good relations with the other countries of the world. The Indian foreign policy approach aimed at presenting India as a responsible and reliable global stakeholder. These relations and the global image of India have gone a long way in collaboration for vaccine production.Bharat Biotech, Serum Institute, Zydus Cadila, Panacea Biotec, Indian Immunologicals, Mynvax and Biological E are among the domestic pharma firms working on the coronavirus vaccines in India.

Serum Institute is developing a live attenuated vaccine with US-based biotech firm Codagenix. Serum Institute of India hadalso entered a manufacturing partnership with AstraZeneca to produce and supply 1 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine being developed by Oxford University for citizens of India and neighboring low and middle-income countries as part of a collaboration with Gavi and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This follows the initial August 2020 agreement which called for 100 million doses, bringing the total number of doses under the current partnership to an aggregate of 200 million.

The British High Commission stated recently that UK and India are working together as a force for good and launching the pioneering new vaccines hub, which will share best practices for regulation and clinical trials, and foster innovation.It also mentioned that the Serum Institute and Oxford University partnership demonstrates the UK-India relationship at its best – a vaccine developed in the UK and made in India, drawing the brightest minds together to save lives as a global force for good.

India is currently finalizing the electronic vaccine intelligence network or eVIN to provide real-time information on the stock and storage details on vaccines nationwide. The government has formed an expert committee to advise on the priorities of vaccine distribution throughout the country. A few months ago, the WHO has praised India’s vaccine production capacity.

India has made a long term impact on how the world views India. India has shown that it can certainly rise up to the challenge of managing global crises with a sense of purpose.

Surbhi Arora
Author is Chief Strategy Officer (CSO), Rishishwar Logistics Pvt. Ltd.

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