In his Independent Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15, 2014, Indian Prime Minister Modi gave a clarion call to all investors of the world, “Come, make in India”, “Come, manufacture in India”, “Sell in any country of the world, but manufacture here”.
The Prime Minister did not stop there. In his inimitable style, following it through on September 25, 2014 he gave an official status to ‘Make in India’ slogan and launched a global campaign.
“My definition of FDI for the people of India is First Develop India. This is also a responsibility for the people of India,” he further clarified.
An Indian perspective:
If I juxtapose this vision of the Prime Minister in the Indian pharmaceutical industry perspective, one finds that many small, medium and large size local domestic manufacturers are currently manufacturing drugs not just for the domestic market, but are also exporting in large quantities to various countries of the world, including, North America, South America and Europe.
The United States (US) is one of the most critical markets for majority of the Indian drug exporters. This transaction was taking place without any major regulatory hitches since quite some time. Unfortunately, over the last few years, mostly the Federal Drug Administration of the US (USFDA) and the United Kingdom (UK)’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have started raising serious doubts on the quality of medicines manufactured in India, making a significant impact on the drug exports of the country.
Most of these quality issues are related to ‘Data Integrity’ in the dug manufacturing and its documentation processes.
According to industry data, in 2013-14, Indian drug exports registered the slowest growth in nearly the last 15 years. In this fiscal year, pharma exports of the country with a turnover of US$ 14.84 billion grew at a meager 1.2 percent. Pharmexcil attributed its reason to USFDA related regulatory issues and increasing global competition.
US accounts for about 25 percent of India’s pharma exports and its Federal Drug Administration (USFDA) has been expressing, since quite a while, serious concerns on ‘Data Integrity’ at the agency’s previously approved production facilities of a large number of Indian pharma players.
The issue is causing not just a serious concern to USFDA and some other overseas drug regulatory agencies, but also posing a huge threat to future growth potential of Indian drug exports.
It is worth noting that Indian government had set an objective, in its strategy document, to register a turnover of US$ 25 billion for pharma exports in 2014-15. In all probability, it would fall far short of this target at the end of this fiscal, predominantly for related reasons.
Why is so much of ‘fuss’ on ‘Data Integrity’?
Broadly speaking, ‘Data Integrity’ in pharmaceutical manufacturing ensures that finished products meet pre-established specifications, such as, for purity, potency, stability and sterility. If data integrity is breached in any manner or in absence of credible data, the product becomes of dubious quality in the eyes of drug regulators.
Manufacturing related ‘Data Integrity’ is usually breached, when data from a database is deliberately or otherwise modified or destroyed or even cooked.
Over the last several years, ‘Data Integrity’ related issues in India are attracting enormous attention of both the USFDA and the MHRA, UK. As a result, concerned pharma manufacturing facilities are receiving Import Alerts/Warning Letters from the respective overseas drug regulators, refusing entry of those medicines mostly in the United States and some in the UK.
Recent warning letters:
Just over a year – from May 2013 to July 2014, around a dozen ‘Warning Letters’ have been sent to the Indian drug manufacturers by the USFDA on ‘Data Integrity’ related issue, as follows:
|Recent ‘Warning Letter’ issued to:
|Date of issue
|Marck Biosciences Ltd.
|08. 07. 2014
|Apotex Pharmachem India Pvt Ltd.
|17. 06. 2014
|Sun Pharmaceutical Industries
|07. 05. 2014
|Canton Laboratories Private Limited
|27. 02. 2014
|06. 02. 2014
|25. 11. 2013
|Agila Specialties Private Limited
|09. 09. 2013
|Posh Chemicals Private Limited
|02. 08. 2013
|Aarti Drugs Limited
|30. 07. 2013
|18. 07. 2013
|Fresenius Kabi Oncology Ltd
|01. 07. 2013
|RPG Life Sciences Limited
|28. 05. 2013
(Source: RAPS, 19 August 2014)
Another report states that USFDA has, so far, banned at least 36 manufacturing plants in India from selling products in the US.
Importance of US for Indian generic players:
Generic drugs currently contribute over 80 percent of prescriptions written in the US. Around 40 percent of prescriptions and Over The Counter (OTC) drugs that are sold there, come from India. Almost all of these are cheaper generic versions of patent expired drugs. Hence, India’s commercial stake in this area is indeed mind-boggling.
The ‘Data Integrity’ issue is not restricted to just US or UK:
A report quoting researchers led by Roger Bate, an American Enterprise Institute scholar and funded by the The Legatum Institute and the Humanities Research Council of Canada, concluded that many Indian pharma companies follow double manufacturing standards, as they are sending poor quality drugs to Africa compared to the same pills sold in other countries. This study was based on tests of 1,470 samples produced by 17 Indian drug manufacturers.
Besides India, the researchers took drug samples from pharmacies in Africa and middle-income countries, including China, Russia and Brazil.
According to this paper, the researchers found that 17.5 percent of samples of the tuberculosis therapy rifampicin sold in Africa tested substandard, which means the drug has less than 80 percent of the active ingredient than what it should otherwise. Against this number, in India, 7.8 percent of the medicine sampled was found substandard.
Moreover, Almost 9 percent of samples of the widely used antibiotic ciprofloxacin sold in Africa tested substandard, as compared to 3.3 percent in India.
Thorny issues around golden opportunities:
Much reported breach in manufacturing ‘Data Integrity’ detected at the manufacturing sites in India, are throwing fresh doubts on the efficacy and safety profile of generic/branded generic medicines, in general, produced in the country and more importantly, whether they are putting the patients’ health at risk.
A new analysis by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research pointed out some thorny issues related to ‘Data Integrity’ of drugs produced by the Indian pharmaceutical companies, which supply around 40 percent of the generic drugs sold in the United States, as stated above.
The researchers examined nearly 1,500 India-made drug samples, collected from 22 cities and found that “up to 10 percent of some medications contained insufficient levels of the key active ingredients or concentrations so low, in fact, that they would not be effective against the diseases they’re designed to treat.”
The report also highlighted that international regulators detected more than 1,600 errors in 15 drug applications submitted by Ranbaxy. The Bureau Officials commented that these pills were “potentially unsafe and illegal to sell.”
Frequent drug recalls by Indian pharma majors:
The above findings came in tandem with a series of drug recalls made recently by the Indian pharma companies in the US.
Some of the reported recent drug recalls in America, arising out of manufacturing related issues at the facilities of two well-known Indian pharma majors, which are going to merge soon, are as follows:
- Sun Pharmaceuticals recalled nearly 400,000 bottles of the decongestant cetirizine (Zyrtec) and 251,882 of the antidepressant venlafaxine (Effexor) this May, because the pills failed to dissolve properly. The drugs were distributed by the drug maker’s US subsidiary Caraco Pharmaceutical Laboratories, but were manufactured in India.
- In the same month – May, Ranbaxy recalled 30,000 packs of the allergy drugs loratadine and pseudo-ephedrine sulphate extended release tablets because of manufacturing defects in packaging.
- In March, Sun Pharma recalled a batch of a generic diabetes drug bound for the US after an epilepsy drug was found in it. A patient discovered the error after noticing the wrong medication in the drug bottle.
- Again in March, Ranbaxy recalled nearly 65,000 bottles of the statin drug atorvastatin calcium (Lipitor) after 20-milligram tablets were found in sealed bottles marked 10-milligrams. A pharmacist in the U.S. discovered the mix up.
Indian media reinforces the point:
Indian media (TNN) also reported that there is no quality control even for life-saving generic drugs and the government is apathetic on ensuring that the quality protocol of these drugs is properly observed.
This happens, as the report states, despite government’s efforts to push generic drugs, as they are more affordable. The report gave an example of a life-saving drug, Liposomal Amphotericin B, which is used to treat fungal infections in critically ill patients.
Are all these drugs safe enough for Indian Patients?
Though sounds awkward, it is a fact that India is a country where ‘export quality’ attracts a premium. Unintentionally though, with this attitude, we indirectly accept that Indian product quality for domestic consumption is not as good.
Unfortunately, in the recent years, increasing number of even ‘export quality’ drug manufacturing units in India are being seriously questioned, warned and banned by the overseas drug regulators, such as USFDA and MHRA, UK, just to ensure dug safety for the patients in their respective countries.
Taking all these into consideration, and noting increasing instances of blatant violations of cGMP standards and ‘Data Integrity’ requirements for ‘export quality’ drugs, one perhaps would shudder to think, what could possibly be the level of conformance to cGMP for the drugs manufactured solely for the consumption of local patients in India.
A cause of concern, as generic drugs are more cost effective to patients:
It has been widely recognized globally that the use of generic drugs significantly reduces out-of-pocket expenditure of the patients and also payers’ spending.
The findings of a study conducted by the Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), Harvard Medical School and CVS Health has just been published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on September 15, 2014. In this study the researchers investigated whether the use of generic versus brand name statins can play a role in medication adherence and whether or not this leads to improved health outcomes. The study concluded that patients taking generic statins were more likely to adhere to their medication and also had a significantly lower rate of cardiovascular events and death.
In this study, the mean co-payment for the generic statin was US$10, as against US$48 for brand-name statins. It is generally expected that the generic drugs would be of high quality, besides being affordable.
I deliberated on a related subject in one of my earlier blog posts of November 11, 2013 titled, “USFDA” Import Bans’: The Malady Calls For Strong Bitter Pills”.
According to USFDA data, from 2013 onwards, about 20 drug manufacturing facilities across India attracted ‘Import Alerts’ as against seven from China, two each from Australian, Canadian and Japanese units and one each from South African and German facilities.
Unfortunately, despite intense local and global furore on this subject, Indian drug regulators at the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO), very strangely, do not seem to be much concerned on the ‘Data Integrity’ issue, at least, not just yet.
In my view, ‘Data Integrity’ issues are mostly not related to any technical or other knowledge deficiency. From the “Warning Letters” of the USFDA to respective Indian companies, it appears that these breaches are predominantly caused by falsification or doctoring of critical data. Thus, it basically boils down to a mindset issue, which possibly pans across the Indian pharma industry, irrespective of size of operations of a company.
Indian Prime Minister’s passionate appeal aimed at all investors, including from India, to “Make in India” and “Sell Anywhere in The World”, extends to pharma industry too, both local and global. The drug makers also seem to be aware of it, but the ghost keeps haunting unabated, signaling that the core mindset has remained unchanged despite periodic lip service and public utterances for corrective measures by a number of head honchos.
Any attempt to trivialize this situation, I reckon, could meet with grave consequences, jeopardizing the thriving pharma exports business of India, and in that process would betray the Prime Ministers grand vision for the country that he epitomized with, “Make in India” and “Sell Anywhere in The World”.
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.