Does India Believe in Two Different Drug Quality standards?

“Maintain and sharpen your intellectual honesty so that you’re always realistic. See things as they are, not way you want them to be.”

The above profound statement is what the Management Guru Ram Charan made in his book titled, ‘Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done’ co-authored by Larry Bossidy.

Placing the content of this book against current series of events plaguing the Indian pharmaceutical industry, a pertinent question floats at the top of mind. Are these books meant to hone the corporate leadership practices at all level or for preserving in the bookshelves, just as another collector’s item?

This is probably a good question to deliberate upon. Otherwise, why do we keep on encountering barrage of newspaper reports on rampant fraudulent practices within the pharmaceutical industry, especially related to quality of drugs and pricing?

Today’s flavor of ongoing practices:

Just to give a flavor of ongoing practices, following are what appeared in today’s newspaper headlines, besides umpteen numbers of instances reported in the past:

  • USFDA says team threatened during Wockhardt inspection”
  • Or “FDA caution on Wockhardt US unit”
  • Or even “GSK Consumer fined for overcharging” Crocin Advance tablets

All these similar and unabating instances of “short changing” the systems by the business leadership, vindicate the point that much sought after management Pandits’ precious wisdom to corporate honchos seems to be falling in deaf ears, as a sizable section of the Indian pharmaceutical industry apparently sacrificing the “Intellectual Honesty” in the alter of greed and quick profit making.

“Medicine is for people, not for the profits” – George Merck:

To exemplify “Intellectual Honesty” in the above book, Ram Charan and Larry Bossidy deliberated on ‘The 10 Greatest CEOs Ever’. One of these 10 greatest CEO is George Merck of the global pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co, who articulated his vision for his Company way back in 1952 as follows:

“Medicine is for people, not for the profits.” 

George Merck believed that the purpose of a corporation is to do something useful, and to do it well, which also ensures decent profits.

Some say, those were the good old days of ethics and values. Things do not seem to be quite the same in today’s India, for various reasons. ‘Walking the Talk’ clutching the ethics and values close to one’s heart, is glaringly missing in a large section of pharma leadership of date.

Currently, all indications confirm that the market would keep growing at a decent pace, despite all odds, as we move on. To achieve sustainable success in the rapidly changing business environment, especially in the healthcare space, globally accepted quality standards of products and services, delivered in a credible and equitable way with built in scalability, would matter the most

Does India believe in two different drug manufacturing quality standards?

Not withstanding the possible opportunities galore, as stated above, the spate of ‘Warning Letters’ from the US-FDA have brought to the fore existence of two different quality standards for drug manufacturing in India:

  • High quality plants dedicated to serving the largest market of the world – the United States and following the US-FDA regulations.
  • Other plants, with much less regulations, to cater to the needs of the Indian population and other developing non-regulated markets.

In a situation like this, especially when many Indian manufacturers are repeatedly failing to meet the American quality standards, the following questions come up:

  • Is the US-FDA manufacturing requirement too troublesome, if not oppressive?
  • If not, do the Indian and other patients too deserve to have drugs conforming to the same quality standards?

Answers to these questions are absolutely vital to convince ourselves, why should Indian patients have access to drugs of lower quality standards than Americans, with consequential increase in their health risks?

Different strokes for different folks:

To immediately alleviate the business risk of Indian exporters through resumption of business with those banned drugs in the United States, the only immediate solution is to ensure strict conformance to US-FDA regulations by enhancing organizational ethics and value systems to the desired level of acceptance of the US regulator, as most of these were identified as fraudulent practices and alleged ‘threats’, as reported above.

However, for getting answer to the question of dual drug manufacturing quality standards in India, Indian Ministry of Health has already made the public understanding on the subject even more complicated.

This is due to conflicting acts of two responsible officials in the Ministry of Health of India on the same issue, as follows:

  • On February 10, 2014, Dr. Keshav Desiraju, the then Secretary of Health signed a “Statement of Intent” with Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, Commissioner of US-FDA to encourage collaboration between American and Indian regulators to effectively address this issue.
  • The very next day, on February 11, 2014, the Drug Controller General of India, while addressing the media expressed his great apprehension against over regulation of the US regulator.

It is, therefore, amazing to note the above different strokes for different folks by the same ministry and on the same very sensitive subject, creating a snowballing effect of confusion within the stakeholders.

Conclusion:

To reap rich harvest out of the emerging gold-plated opportunity, as stated above, not just coming from India, but across the world, Indian pharma does need a strong leadership with unflinching belief in business practices weaved in corporate ethics and values.

Even to come out of the episodes of repeated ‘Warning Letters’ from US-FDA, casting aspersions on the quality of Indian drug manufacturing standards, which are mainly related to alleged fraudulent business practices, strong corporate leadership with high ethics and value standards at all level is of absolute necessity.

Equally important is to follow the visionary statement of the pharma iconoclast George Merck, made way back in 1952 that “Medicine is for people, not for the profits”.

Moving towards this direction, would the newly formed Ministry of Health clarify expeditiously, without any ambiguity and with intellectual honesty that Indian patients are taking as safe and effective medicines as their counterparts, living in any other corner of the developed world, including the United States?

By: Tapan J. Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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