Indian Pharma To Stay Ahead of The Technology Curve

In the ever-changing business environment, many industrial sectors have now started leveraging different cutting-edge technological platforms to improve overall strategic and operational effectiveness, keeping a sharp focus on better stakeholder engagement for greater customer satisfaction.

These companies have accepted the inevitability of a paradigm shift in the algorithm of the traditional business process. It has dawned on them that it may not be possible to be in the pole position by tweaking the existing process with multiple incremental changes – a time is just right now to take a quantum leap in this direction. Placing the company ahead of the technology curve to acquire the critical X-factor in outperforming the competition is going to be the new mantra. This is likely to happen even in the sales and marketing domains, much sooner than one can possibly imagine, as the marketplace becomes increasingly tougher.

Moving closer to this direction, Artificial Intelligence (AI) based digital tools, I reckon, is likely to be one of the key game changers. The term AI was coined in 1956 by John McCarthy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is usually defined as the science of making computers do things that require intelligence when done by humans. AI helps to ferret out critical answers to many real-life issues and gain a competitive edge in business management, by creating and then effectively analyzing a huge pool of real life data.

AI is the fulcrum of business operations for several leading companies of the world, such as, Apple, Amazon and Uber. It has already started replacing human intelligence in a number key business operations in various industries. As a widely-known Indian business leader recently said, anything that can go digital will go digital. This wave is unstoppable in this modern era.

In this article, I shall restrict the scope of discussion to the application of AI in pharma sales and marketing.

A recent illustration from India:

The application of AI via a digital tool, called Chatbot – the short form of ‘Chat Robot’, is one of the ways in this direction. It is a complex computer program that simulates human conversation, or chat, through auditory or textual methods. Various industries have now started developing the Chatbot dialog application systems for a specialized purpose of human communication, including a variety of customer interaction, information acquisition and providing a range of customized services to the target group.

To illustrate the above point, let me draw upon a recent example from the banking sector of India. On March 05, 2017, a leading bank in India announced the launch of an AI-driven Chatbot named Eva, coined from the words Electronic Virtual Assistant (EVA), to add more value to their services for greater customer satisfaction.

According to reports, Eva is India’s first AI driven banking Chatbot that can answer millions of customer queries on its own, across multiple channels, immediately. It assimilates knowledge from thousands of sources and provide answers in a simple to understand language format in under 0.4 seconds. This is a good example of taking a quantum leap in improving operational efficiency by delighting the new generation of customers. “Within the first few days of its launch, Eva has answered over 100,000 queries from thousands of customers from 17 countries across the globe” – the bank reportedly claimed.

To do routine services more efficiently with a customer-centric approach, this AI-based  Bank OnChat combines a disruptive technology platform for a human-like conversation, powered by AI, and the Bank’s deep domain expertise and long acquired insight of banking related customers. Earlier this year, for a similar customer-oriented initiative using AI and Robotics technologies, the same bank launched an interactive  humanoid called Intelligent Robotic Assistant or IRA.

Although, these are just illustrations in the Indian context, an important question that surfaces: if these can happen in the banking industry, why not in the pharma sector of India?

Resisting changes versus finding innovative means to overcome challenges:

Coming back to the pharma industry, we all are aware that this knowledge sector, over the last four and a half decades in India, has been navigating through umpteen challenges, none of which has been easy, by any measure.

Nevertheless, as compared to the past, I notice a palpable difference today. Significantly more number of shrill voices with fierce resistance to changes are now outnumbering the out of box mindset, desire and efforts to still thrive, by overcoming those critical challenges. Since the formative years of the Indian pharma industry, it has been successfully overcoming the challenges of change, which are unavoidable though.

Such kind of indomitable ‘animal spirit’ within many leaders of the Indian pharma industry, created today’s national pharma behemoths like, Sun Pharma, Lupin, Cadila, Dr. Reddy’s, Alkem and many others. They are thriving despite continuation of immensely challenging business environment and tough socioeconomic demand in the country. By the way, the second richest person in India is from the Indian pharma industry and grew from a scratch, during this very period.

Making creative changes help, moaning doesn’t:

While facing the newer sets of challenges today, many industry greenhorns, I reckon, need to spend more quality time to effectively overcome these turbulences – provided of course they possess the requisite mindset, knowledge and other wherewithal.

Acquiring new insight through modern technological platforms, such as AI, will pay a rich dividend. Better customer engagement and relationship management with new genres of AI tools, furnishing stimulating and modern web-based content with personalized access, would help achieve the desired strategic goals in the changing paradigm – but just moaning won’t, surely.

A few global pharma players are now fathoming the scope and depth of this area, most others are still not sure about its usefulness for customer engagement and interactions, and commensurate real-life data requirements for AI related analytics.

A predictable pattern of a series of unpredictable challenges and developments:

According to Eularis, integrating AI based analytics with a pharma product offerings can provide substantial benefits including, among others, the following:

  • Identification of both tangible and intangible enhanced value proposition
  • Enhanced competitor differentiation
  • Optimal resource allocation for maximum market share gain, revenue and profit
  • Ability to see which levers to pull to maximize growth
  • Customizing sales and marketing messaging for greater customer engagement
  • Automation of sales and marketing messages and channels.

In my view, while moving in this direction, AI based analytics are now far more reliable than any human analysis of the humongous volume of different kinds of data. Doing so is sometimes beyond the capacity of any conventional computers that a marketing professional generally uses for this purpose. The prime requirement, therefore, is not just huge volume of data per se, but good quality of a decent volume of data, that a state of the art analytics would be able to meaningfully deliver to meet specific requirements of pharma marketers for creating a cutting-edge marketing strategy.

This will be an absolute necessity in the complexity of an evolving new paradigm in the cyberspace. In a similar context, as I wrote even earlier, any such technology-driven changes would usually follow a predictable pattern of a series of unpredictable challenges and developments in the business environment, which has already commenced in the pharma industry.

The Market:

According to an April 2013 article, published by the McKinsey  Global Institute, applying big-data strategies to better inform decision making could generate up to US$100 billion in value annually only across the US health care system, by optimizing innovation, improving the efficiency of research and clinical trials, and building new tools for physicians, consumers, insurers, and regulators to meeting the promise of more individualized approaches.

Mandatory generic prescriptions won’t make pharma marketing less important:

Even if the much talked about mandatory prescription in generic names comes to fruition, the new paradigm won’t make pharma marketing less important. This would, however, be more about providing patient-centric, credible and tangible disease management or treatment solutions or both, rather than just selling a drug giving a trade name to it.

Thus, the need for interaction with physicians by the pharma players, besides some additional new target groups, would continue to remain important. Nonetheless, the message – mostly its form, substantive content, the targeting process and the usage of various tools for delivery of the same, would undergo substantive modifications. These changes would generally be prompted by fresh thinking, together with a fresh pair of eyes and mind, in the prevailing business environment, at any given point of time, well supported by data and tested with state of art analytics. The depth and gravity of environmental changes may also hasten the process of digital transformation of pharma sales and marketing, in various ways.

Those who are still trying harder to milk the traditional prescription demand generation process to the extent possible, despite its lesser and lesser yield, would need to introspect now, if they are able to. The time, and the prevailing pharma business environment probably demands jettisoning the conventional mindset faster, and search for the best-suited and most innovative modern tools to hit the bull’s eye. The young pharma professionals with a ‘can do’ spirit to effectively navigate through the strong headwind, are likely to emerge as early winners – provided of course their seniors and diehard ‘trainers’ don’t block their required elbow space.

‘Virtual Representatives’:

Deploying ‘Virtual Representatives (VR)’, well- supported by analytics for key target customers that QuintilesIMS is recommending, could be one among several other important examples in this area. VRs are appropriately equipped to take any doctor’s call online, for any product or related information, at any time the physicians find convenient – during or after their busy practicing hours.

The ‘push-pull’ balance between the doctors and the pharma players for such engagements can also be appropriately configured, and that too at a fraction of the current cost incurred to for similar purpose. This process and the technology used will be quite close to Chatbot, that has recently been introduced by an Indian bank, as illustrated above.

In conclusion:

Despite the rapidly changing business environment, pressing socioeconomic demands and a national dream for ‘Digital India’, the pharma industry hasn’t demonstrated any significant appetite for a change in the process of doing the business in the country. Individual players, by and large, have remained mostly consistent in strictly adhering to much tried processes and tools, though in their multiple permutations and combinations, especially in the domain of sales and marketing.

Other industries, like banking – also facing different types of tough challenges, are making efforts to stay ahead of the technology curve for operational excellence and greater consumer satisfaction. Fast scaling up of digital applications, such as Chatbots, Humanoids and the likes, vindicate this point.

Notwithstanding the availability of a large gamut of cutting-edge technological platforms, such as those based on AI, most players within the pharma industry continue to be rather slow in adopting these important and innovative resources. Could it be due to dearth of requisite talent, especially in pharma sales and marketing leadership within the industry? Well, many may argue so – some may also feel otherwise. Nevertheless, finding the right answer for a slow response of pharma in this domain still remains elusive.

That said, amid a gradually shifting paradigm, Indian pharma companies may wish to consider imbibing innovative technological interventions, such as, AI-based digital applications in sales and marketing. This has a great potential to successfully sail through many uncertainties, not just the latest one. It would also help changing the traditional ball game with a flexible, multitasking and contemporary one – right from conceptualizing – to charting out a customer-centric sales and marketing strategy – and then its immaculate execution, catapulting the company to a new and fascinating growth orbit altogether. Thus, staying ahead of the technology curve by the Indian pharma players, assumes critical importance for a long-term business sustainability, more than ever before.

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.

Indian Pharmaceutical Landscape: Looking back (2011), Looking Ahead (2012)

2011 witnessed many interesting developments within the pharmaceutical industry of India. All these developments may not be appreciated by all stakeholders alike, nonetheless had an impact on the industry of varying degree both in the qualitative and quantitative terms.

That said, the list of ‘unfinished agenda’ of the government to improve healthcare access and simultaneously to fuel the growth engine of the industry with reform oriented policy initiatives, kept on increasing staggeringly.

The issue of improving access to modern medicines with comprehensive measures continued to remain unaddressed even in the draft National Pharmaceuticals Pricing Policy 2011. Similarly, the Prime Minister’s dedication of the decade of 2010 as the decade of innovation remained a pipe dream for the pharmaceutical industry of the country.  Policy paralysis of the decision makers during the year failed to translate even this praiseworthy intent into reality.

Increasing consumption of medicines in India: 

Indian Pharmaceutical Market (IPM) continued to grow at a scorching pace of around 15% registering a turnover of Rs 59,621 Crore during the year. (Source: Nov 2011- AIOCD/AWACS).

Fast increasing consumption of medicines in the country continued to position IPM not just as another global success story, but also an emerging pharmaceutical force to reckon with, especially in the development and manufacturing of high quality and low cost generic pharmaceuticals together with its world-class  Contract Research and Manufacturing Services (CRAMS).  Indian pharmaceutical players now cater to about 20% of global requirements of high quality and affordable generic medicines of all types.

Consolidation process continues:

At the same time, ongoing consolidation process within the pharmaceutical industry continued in 2011 with Aventis Pharma (Sanofi) acquiring Universal Medicare and Zydus Cadila shopping for Biochem Pharma.

November 30, 2011: Signaled beginning of the end of the blockbuster drug era:

On November 30, 2011, the patent expiry of the world largest ever brand Lipitor (Pfizer), clocking an annual turnover of over US$ 14 billion and accounting for more than 20% of the company’s sales turnover until recently, I reckon, heralds beginning of the end of the blockbuster drug era.  To equal the turnover of Lipitor with another brand will be a huge challenge not only for Pfizer, but also for any other company in the near to medium term.

Patent expiry of Lipitor will now help opening up the super size Atorvastatin market of the developed world to the Indian generic players.

Launch of innovative products:

Launch of several innovative and patented products in India by the global players during 2011, reconfirmed the attractiveness of the IPM to the global innovator companies. Some of these innovative products are Revolade (Eltrombopag) , Votrient (Pazopanib Hydrochloride) of GlaxoSmithKline, Flexbumin solution of Baxter and BD Ultra-Fine III Nano of Becton Dickinson.

Looking back (2011):

During 2011, the industry witnessed a number of initiatives from the government as an ongoing process, some of which are as follows:

  • Establishment of dedicated Pharma Zones in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Delhi airports, including cold rooms to help achieving world-class cold-chain logistics in India in the medium term.
  • For the first time in 2011, the government initiated steps to put the ‘Biosimilar Guidelines’ in place to ensure high safety standards for follow-on biologics in India. The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) prepared these guidelines in consultation with the industry, the effective implementation of which is keenly awaited. This important step will also help Indian biosimilar drug manufacturers to prepare themselves well to explore the opportunity of gradually opening-up biosimilar drugs markets in the western world, like the USA and EU.
  • The Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) came out with a draft Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP) in 2011 to curb alleged unethical practices of ‘bribing doctors’ by pharma companies. The code initially is expected to be of voluntary in nature and its effective implementation will be ensured by the pharmaceutical companies and the industry associations over a period of six months. Thereafter, if the implementation level of UCPMP does not measure up to the expectations of the DoP, it will be made mandatory under strict regulatory control.  However, the final UCPMP has not been announced by the government, as yet.
  • The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare constituted a twelve member task force to evolve a long term strategy to address various issues faced by the Indian Pharmaceutical Industry. Unfortunately, tangible outcome from this committee is still awaited.
  • Following the Supreme Court directive to the government to bring essential drugs under price control, after a very long time, the Government came out hurriedly with a draft National Pharmaceuticals Pricing Policy 2011 (Draft NPPP 2011) by increasing the span of effective price control to over 65% of the IPM. This flawed draft policy, if implemented, could stifle the growth of the industry.
  • During the year the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare finalized the National Vaccine Policy to strengthen the institutional framework required for the universal immunization program. The policy is also expected to streamline the decision-making process on new and underutilized vaccine introduction, besides addressing issues of vaccine security, management, regulatory guidelines and vaccine research and development.
  • The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare also came out with the National Health Research Policy in 2011 to overcome the weaknesses of the publicly funded health structures, which restrict research in the priority health areas. This policy is expected to help maximizing the returns on investments in health research through creation of a robust health research system.
  • New National Manufacturing Policy (NMP), which ultimately saw the light of the day during the year, is expected to promote the productivity of the pharmaceutical sector, as well. The policy will help enhancing the share of total manufacturing of all industrial sectors put together from the current level of 15% to 25% of the GDP within a decade and would also help creating 100 million jobs in the country.
  • 100% FDI in the Pharmaceuticals sector of India remained unchanged, which will attract more foreign investments in this sunrise sector of India.
  • ‘Universal Health Converge’, announced during the year by the Planning Commission of India, will help reducing significantly the ‘out of pocket’ expenses incurred towards healthcare, improving its access to all.

Looking Ahead (2012):

  • The good news for 2012 is that the Planning Commission has decided to increase the national spending on health to 2.5% of the GDP in the 12th Five Year Plan starting from 2012.
  • In 2012, if the ‘NPPP 2011’ is implemented as in its current draft form, it could seriously impede the court of the vibrant pharmaceutical industry of India.
  • Introductions of DTC and GST: The ‘Discussion Paper’ on the draft ‘Direct Taxes Code Bill, 2009’ highlighted the possibility that the GST regime could have multiple rates based on classification of goods that are to be listed under the exempted category, like goods which would attract lower rate and another category of goods qualifying for standard rate. This concept of multiple rate of tax under GST regime could impact the pharma/health science industry as the business models followed by this industry typically involves import/manufacture and sale of life saving drugs, medical devices and other formulations, which presently attract either NIL rate of duty under central excise/VAT or lower rate of excise duty at 4%. Presently clinical trial services/R&D services attract service tax at 10.30%.
  • The growth trajectory of the IPM is expected to continue to go north despite slowdown in the US and European economies in 2012.


Like many other sectors, the pharmaceutical industry of India also witnessed the reform oriented policy paralysis of the government in 2011, barring some superficial, half- hearted and incomplete initiatives, as indicated above.

Key areas of general public health interest, encouraging innovation, fostering R&D and improving access to medicines to alleviate healthcare related problems of the common man and at the same time to propel the industry to the inclusive high growth trajectory, have still remained unanswered.

Faster recovery from reform-oriented policy paralysis of the government and effective translation into reality of the seemingly good intent of the policy makers, is now eagerly awaited in 2012.

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.

Biosimilar Drugs: The Roadblocks and the Road Ahead

Unlike commonly used ‘small molecule’ chemical based drugs, ‘large molecule’ biologic drugs are developed from living cells and using very complex processes. These groups of drugs could range from simpler insulin to therapy for treating complex ailments like, cancer and almost invariably attract a high price tag, which could run even in thousands of dollars.

It is virtually impossible to replicate these protein substances, unlike the ‘small molecule’ drugs. One can at best develop a biologically similar molecule with the application of high degree of biotechnological expertise. These drugs are usually much less expensive than the original ones and called ‘Biosimilar Drugs’. It is expected that ‘biosimilar drugs’ will have lesser market competition than the conventional ‘small molecule’ generic drugs, mainly because of complexity and costs involved in their developmental process.

Future growth potential:

In most of the developed countries, besides regulatory issues, ‘Biosimilar drugs’ are considered to be a threat to the fast growing global biotech industry. At the same time, it is widely believed that in the rapidly evolving global concern for cheaper and more affordable medicines for patients across the world, relatively smaller biotech companies, given the required wherewithal  at their disposal, could emerge as winners in this new ball game as compared to traditional generic pharmaceutical players.

Novartis (Sandoz) – first to launch a ‘Biosimilar drug’ in the US:

In mid-2006, US FDA approved its first ‘Biosimilar drug’- Omnitrope of Sandoz (Novartis) following a court directive. Omnitrope is a copycat version of Pfizer’s human growth hormone, Genotropin. Interestingly, Sandoz had also taken the US FDA to court for keeping its regulatory approval pending for some time in the absence of a well-defined regulatory pathway for ‘Biosimilar drugs’ in the USA. The CEO of Sandoz had then commented, “The FDA’s approval is a breakthrough in our goal of making high-quality and cost-effective follow-on biotechnology medicines like Omnitrope available for healthcare providers and patients worldwide”. Despite this event, none at that time expected the US FDA to put regulatory guidelines in place for approval of ‘Biosimilar drugs’ in the country.

Merck’s entry was through an acquisition:

Merck announced its entry into the ‘Biosimilar drugs’ business on February 12, 2009 with its acquisition of Insmed’s portfolio for US$ 130 million in cash. Rich pipeline of follow-on biologics of Insmed is expected to help Merck to hasten its entry into global ‘Biosimilar drugs’ markets.

Other recent global initiatives:

  • Merck paid US$ 720 million to Hanwha for rights to its copy of Enbrel of Amgen
  • Samsung of South Korea has set up a biosimilars joint venture with Quintiles to create a contract manufacturer for biotech drugs.
  • Celltrion and LG Life Sciences have expressed global ambitions in biosimilar drugs.
  • Dr Reddy’s Laboratories (DRL) has already been marketing a biosimilar version of Rituxan of Roche since 2007.
  • According to Reuter (June 22, 2011), Merck, Novartis (Sandoz), Teva and Pfizer are expected to be strong players in the biosimilar market.
  • Reliance Life Science though has faced a setback in Europe with the regulators asking for more data for its copy of EPO prompting them to withdraw their application for now, is also a potential player in the biosimilar market.

Many other developments are also now taking place in the space of ‘Biosimilar drugs’, the world over. To fetch maximum benefits out of this emerging opportunity, India has started taking steps to tighten its regulatory process for marketing approval of such drugs. This is absolutely necessary to allay general apprehensions on drug safety with inadequate clinical data for similar protein substances.

Current status in the US:

President Barak Obama administration of the US has been expressing for quite some time a strong intent to pave the way for ‘Biosimilar drugs’ in the US. To facilitate this process, a new draft legislation titled, “Promoting Innovation and Access to Life Saving Medicine Act” was introduced by the legislators of the country. This legislation came into force with the announcement by US-FDA the outline of how biopharmaceutical players can submit their application for marketing approval of ‘Biosimilar drugs’ in the country. Many industry players have since then been gearing up, across the world, to have a share of the potentially large ‘biosimilar drugs’ market in the US.

Challenging clinical data requirements in the US:

According to ‘Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009 (BPCI Act)’, which was enacted in the US on March 23, 2010, any biological substance to be “biosimilar” will require to be “highly similar to the reference product, notwithstanding minor differences in clinically inactive components”. BPCI also specifies that there should be “no clinically meaningful differences between the biological product and the reference product in terms of the safety, purity, and potency of the product”. It is interesting to note that the Act emphasizes on ‘clinical similarity’ rather than ‘biological or structural similarity’ between the original and ‘biosimilar drugs’.

The New England Journal of Medicine dated August 4, 2011 reported that US-FDA is in the process of establishing very challenging clinical requirements from the makers of ‘biosimilar drugs’ for obtaining marketing approval in the country. Such stringent regulatory requirements are expected to push up the cost of development of ‘biosimilar drugs’ significantly, seriously limiting the number of players in the market.

12 years Exclusivity in the US:

In the US, the innovator companies get 12 years exclusivity for their original biologic drugs from the date of respective marketing approvals by the FDA.

The BPCI Act clearly specifies that applications for ‘biosimilar drugs’ to the FDA will not be made effective by the regulator before 12 years from the date of approval of the innovators’ products. In addition, if the original product is for pediatric indications, the 12-years exclusivity may get an extension for another six months.

However, the key point to note here is, if the FDA starts its review process for the ‘biosimilar drugs’ only after the 12 year period, the innovator companies in that case, will effectively get, at least, one more year of exclusivity over and above  the 12 years period, when the applicants for ‘biosimilar drugs’ will keep waiting for marketing approval from the FDA.

The market:

According to Datamonitor the global market for ‘biosimilars drugs’ is expected to grow from US$ 243 million in 2010 to around US $3.7 billion by 2015.

Another report points out that only in the top two largest pharmaceutical markets of the world, the USA and EU, sales of ‘biosimilar drugs’ will record a turnover of US$ 16 billion in the next couple of years when about 60 biotech products will go off-patent.

The Indian biotech players:

Such a lucrative business opportunity in the west is obviously attracting many Indian players, like, Biocon, Dr. Reddy’s Labs, Ranbaxy, Wockhardt, Shantha Biotech, Reliance Life Science etc., who have already acquired expertise in the development of ‘Biosimilar drugs’ like, erythropoietin, insulin, monoclonal antibodies, interferon-Alfa, which are not only being marketed in India but are also exported to other non/less-regulated markets of the world.

Ranbaxy in collaboration with Zenotech Laboratories is engaged in global development of Granulocyte Colony-Stimulating Factor (GCSF) formulations. Wockhardt is expected to enter into the Global ‘Biosimilar drugs’ market shortly. Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories and Biocon are also preparing themselves for global development and marketing of insulin products, GCSF and streptokinase formulations.

Funding by the Government of India:

It has been reported that the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) of the Government of India has proposed funding of US$ 68 million for ‘biosimilar drugs’ through Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiatives, where soft loans will be made available to the Indian biotech companies for the same. Currently DBT spends reportedly around US$200 million annually towards biotechnology related initiatives.

Key success factors for rapid acceptance in the developed markets:

According to a new research finding from ‘The Decision Resources’, one of the key success factors for any such new drugs is how quickly the specialists will accept them. So far as biosimilar drugs are concerned they noted a high level of concern, if such drugs are not supported by robust sets of clinical data on the claimed treatment indications.


With increasing global cost-containment pressures within the healthcare space, the emergence of a lucrative global ‘biosimilar drugs’ market now appears to be inevitable.

In the fast evolving scenario, major research based global bio-pharma and even the pure pharmaceutical companies will have two clear choices. The first choice is the conventional one of competing with ‘biosimilar drugs’ in all important markets of the world. However, the second choice of jumping into the fray, keeping undiluted focus on R&D, appears to be more prudent and perhaps will also make a shrewd horse sense. Only future will tell us, which of these two business senses will prevail, in the run up to success, for the global biotech companies.

With the above background, the report from the ‘Business Wire’ highlighting the fact, ‘the manufacture and development of a biosimilar molecule requires an investment of about US$ 10 to 20 million in India, as compared to US$ 50 to 100 million in developed countries’, vindicates the emergence of another lucrative business opportunity for India.

With around 40% cost arbitrage, as indicated above and  without compromising on the required stringent international regulatory standards, the domestic ‘biosimilar’ players  should be able to establish India as one of the most preferred manufacturing destinations to meet the global requirements for ‘biosimilar drugs’.

Experience in conforming to stringent US FDA manufacturing standards, having largest number of US FDA approved plants outside USA, India has already acquired a clear advantage in manufacturing  high technology chemical based pharmaceutical products in India. Significant improvement in conformance to Good Clinical Practices (GCP) standards will offer additional advantages.

In addition to cost efficiency, available skill sets in developing ‘biosimilar drugs’, will offer another critical advantage to the domestic players in reaching out to the international ‘biosimilar drugs’ markets either by themselves or with appropriate collaborative arrangements, just as we have recently witnessed in case of Biocon’s strategic collaboration with Pfizer in this rapidly evolving sector of the world.

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.

Gone 2010…Comes 2011: Looking Back…Looking Ahead at the Healthcare Space of India

Our country, especially the media and the politicians (perhaps not so much the ‘Aam Aadmi’), appears to be totally engrossed now in uprooting the issue of corruption from the soil of India, once and for all. Politicians of all hues are not showing any sign of respite to let go this opportunity, without squeezing out the last drop of ‘political elixir’, out of the current high level of self-created cynicism. This is very important for them in the run-up to the next general and state elections for ultimate win in the political power-game. The ‘common man’, like you and me, on the contrary, is perhaps thinking about job creation, financial progress, infrastructure development, education and health.

The Fourth Estate of the country, especially the Electronic Media, seems to be lapping up any news, which could even remotely help the TRPs of their respective news channels going north.

In a chaotic situation like this, when even the country’s parliament is defunct, it appears, by and large the entire nation is currently being encouraged to get deeply engaged in ‘self-flagellation’, as it were. There seems to be a desperate need to prove to the world, time and again, how bad the Indians are. The ‘Brand India’ after taking so many powerful blows on its chin, is in tears now.

Be that as it may, has India achieved anything in the year 2010 with a public spend of just around 1% of the GDP towards healthcare? Let me try to capture some of those hard facts, which could appear as a laundry list though, at the very onset of the brand New Year. I have collated these details from various published sources.

Some doomsayers with ever ‘pontifying’ mind-set would nevertheless keep brushing all these aside. However, acknowledging these achievements, I would rather say, “all these are too little even for too few”.

Whatever it is, I am trying to put these details in one place for a comprehensive record of the year, just gone by.

Here it goes:

I. Healthcare Indicators:

I. The number of polio cases has sharply declined during the year. Only 41 polio cases have been reported as on November 30, 2010, against 633 in the corresponding period of 2009.

II. Adult HIV prevalence has declined from 0.41% in 2000 to 0.31% in 2009. The number of new annual HIV infections has declined by more than 50% from 2000 to 2010.(Source: National AIDS Control Organization )

III. Leprosy Prevalence Rate has declined to 0.71/10,000 in March, 2010. 32 State/UTs have achieved elimination by March 2010, leaving only Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Dadra & Nagar Haveli.

IV.TB mortality in has gone down from over 42/lakh population in 1990 to 23/lakh population in 2009 as per the WHO global report 2010. The prevalence of the disease in the country has reduced from 338/lakh population in 1990 to 249/lakh population by the year 2009 (Source: WHO global TB report, 2010).

II. New Initiatives:

  1. A bivalent oral polio vaccine (bOPV) was launched in the country in Bihar on January 9, 2010.
  2. A ‘Sports Injury Centre’ was dedicated to the nation at the Safdarjung Hospital, Delhi, with an inpatient capacity of 35 beds with all modern facilities.
  3. The Indian Pharmacopeia Commission published the 2010 version of Indian Pharmacopeia.
  4. Upgradation of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Delhi with an estimated cost of Rs 382.41. Crore.
  5. A scheme to support the State Government Medical Colleges for conducting paramedical courses with a total proposed project cost of Rs.1156.43 Crore.
  6. Setting up of 132 Auxiliary Nurse Midwives training schools at an estimated cost of Rs.5.00 Crores per school and 137 General Nursing and Midwifery training schools at an estimated cost of Rs.10.00 Crores per school.
  7. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Ministry of Railways signed a memorandum of Understanding for development of healthcare infrastructure along the railway network of the country.
  8. A new ‘National Program for Health Care of the Elderly’ (NPHCE) was approved with an outlay of Rs. 288.00 Crore for 2010-11 & 2011-12.
  9. Urban Slum Health Check-up Scheme for Diabetes and Blood pressure was launched in New Delhi on November 14, 2010. Pilot project is in progress in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Ahmedabad.
  10. The revised National Program for Prevention & Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases and Stroke (NPCDCS) was approved with a budgetary provision of Rs. 1230.90 Crore
  11. Under Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS), a pilot project of a standalone hemodialysis center has started at Sadiq Nagar CGHS Wellness center in collaboration with M/S Alliance Medicorp (India) Limited, Chennai, under Public Private Partnership (PPP).

III. National Rural Health Mission (NRHM)

  1. Healthcare Infrastructure:

I. New construction and upgradation of 433 District Hospitals, 2921 Community Health Centers (CHCs), 4165 Primary Health Centers (PHCs) and 11856 Health Sub-Centers.

II. 9120 PHCs became functional for 24 hours, as compared to only 1262 in 2005.

  1.                III.  2426 health facilities which include District Hospitals, Sub-District Hospitals and Community Health Centers started functioning as First Referral Units (FRUs) as compared to 955 in 2005.


  1.                IV.  1653 Mobile Medical Units are operating in different States providing services in the interior areas.
  2. Human Resource:

I. 2394 Specialists, 8284 MBBS doctors, 9578 AYUSH doctors, 26734 staff nurses, 53552 ANMs and 18272 other Para-medical staff were added to the health system to improve the services.

II. Over 8.33 lakh trained ASHA/community workers were engaged to link the households with the health facility.


3.  Healthcare System:


I. State and District Health Societies were set up in all the States and Union Territories (UTs).

  1.                               II.  Planning capacity at the district level was strengthened and Integrated District Health Action Plan prepared by 540 districts.

4. Community Engagement:

Effective and efficient decentralized management of health system is being achieved through communalization of facilities, adequate and flexible financing with community accountability, monitoring progress against Indian Public Health Standards, innovations in human resources, together with engagement and building of capacity at all levels.

I. 29904 ‘Rogi Kalyan Samitis’ were registered in the health facilities up to PHC level.

  1.                               II.  4.93 lakh Village Health and Sanitation Committees (VHSCs) were constituted and 4.82 lakh joint accounts at the Village Health and Sanitation Committees and Health Sub-Centers were opened.
  2.                            III.  23.61 million Village Health & Nutrition Days were held at village level over the last three years to provide immunization, maternal and child healthcare and other public health related services at ‘Anganwadi’ centers.

5. Service Delivery:

I. Under the ‘Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY)’, which is cash transfer scheme to promote institutional delivery, over 100.78 lakh pregnant mothers were covered in 2009-10 as against 7.39 lakh in 2005-06.

  1.                               II.  53500 male health workers were hired for all the Sub Health Centers (SHC) in 235 high focus districts for disease control with a total costs of Rs. 385.52 Crores per year.

6. Family Planning:

  1.                                 I.  Fixed day Fixed Place Family Planning Services round the year through PHCs
  2.                               II.  ‘Santushti’ strategy was implemented through ‘Janasankhya Sthrirata Kosh’, to provide private sector gynecologists and vasectomy surgeons an opportunity to conduct sterilization operations through Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiatives.

7. Disease Control:

  • National Tuberculosis Control Program:

I. Treatment success rates increased from 25% to 87% in 2010.

II. Death rates have declined from 29% to 4% in 2010

III. Treatment success rate is now >85% and new sputum positive (NSP) case detection rate is currently more than the global target of 70%.

  • The National Program for Control of Blindness started providing financial assistance to NGOs for cataract operations and treatment of other eye diseases.
  • 75 districts were added to the National Program for Prevention and Control of Deafness (NPPCD), making it a total of 176 districts of 15 States and 4 UTs. Rs.11.50 Crore has been provided for the current year.
  • Phase–I of ‘Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana’ projects commenced with an allocation of Rs 9307.60 Crore.

IV. Healthcare Legislation:

1. The Indian Medical Council (Amendment) Bill 2010 was introduced in the ‘Lok Sabha’ to give effect to amendments to the IMC Act 1956 by which in certain specified situations Government can dissolve the elected Medical Council and replace it, for a period not exceeding one year with a nominated Board of governors.

2. The “National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences Bangalore Bill, 2010” was introduced in the ‘Rajya Sabha’ to facilitate NIMHANS to develop as an Institute of National Importance on the lines of All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi,

3. The Clinical Establishments (Registration & Regulation) Bill, 2010 was passed by both Houses of Parliament and notified. The Act aims at providing registration & regulation of clinical establishments in the country with a view to prescribing minimum standards of facilities and services.

V. International Cooperation:

  • A MoU on the Establishment and Operation of Global Disease Detection (GDD) – India Centre, between National Centre for Disease Control, New Delhi and Centre of Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, USA, was signed during the recent visit of the US President Mr. Barack Obama in November 2010.
  • India raised the issue of counterfeit medicines and “urged countries to steer clear from the commercially motivated debates over the ‘counterfeit’ issue which have hampered public health by preventing access to good quality and low cost generic drugs”. As a result WHA adopted a resolution establishing a time limited and result oriented working group on substandard / spurious / falsely-labeled / falsified / counterfeit medical products comprised of and open to all Member States.

VI. Health Research:

I. Draft National Health Research Policy prepared during the year, is being debated across the country.

II. Draft Policy for Knowledge Management Policy for Health – services, education and research prepared and debates completed.

III. Based on guidelines for use of assisted reproductive technologies a draft Bill has been prepared.

IV. Guidelines for management of cancers of buccal mucosa, stomach & cervix has been developed.

My wish-list for 2011:

In my view, the following 5 important issues, if addressed effectively in 2011,could make a significant impact on the Healthcare space of India:

1. Announcement of a robust, reform oriented long overdue pharmaceutical ‘Drug Policy’ in India.

2. More budgetary allocation and a transparent delivery system for the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and the Rashtriya Bima Yojana (RBY) to improve access to healthcare and ensure inclusive growth in the healthcare sector, covering majority of the population of the country.

  1.               3.  A strong healthcare financing model covering all strata of  society to reduce  the burden of huge ‘out of pocket’ healthcare expenses and make healthcare more accessible and affordable to all.

- The 2010 ‘World Health Report’ of the ‘World Health Organization (WHO)’ “provided governments of various countries with practical guidance on ways to finance healthcare expenses. Taking evidence from all over the world, the report showed how all countries, rich and poor, can adjust their health financing mechanisms so more people get the healthcare they need.” I reckon, policy makers in India will exert enough efforts in 2011 for speedy implementation of such reform oriented healthcare initiatives in the country in its endeavor to fulfill the long overdue promise – ‘health for all.’

4. Progressive policy and fiscal measures to encourage innovation and pharmaceutical R&D within the country

5. Speedy resolution of all Intellectual Property related disputes through ‘Fast Track IP Courts’ to create appropriate innovation oriented ‘Echo System’ in the country.


All the achievements of the year just gone by, are good… but are these enough? India in its ‘Healthcare Policy’ statement, way back in mid-1980 promised, ‘health for all’ by the year 2000. We are not there, not just yet.

Though the country is trying hard to achieve the ‘Millennium Development Goals (MDG)’ by 2015, as the situation stands today, it appears a remote possibility, in many areas.

Non-communicable diseases are now posing a major threat to the country, significantly increasing the burden of disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned that India would be the ‘diabetic capital’ of the world with a population of around 80 million diabetic patients by 2030. Further, the ‘Cardiological Society of India’ predicts that there would be around 100 million cardiac patients in the country by 2020, which roughly works out to be around 60% of the total cardiac patient population of the world.

Keeping all these in view, the achievements made by the country in the year 2010, though should be taken note of… but the moot question still remains, ‘aren’t all these too little even for too few?’

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.