Exploring An Exit To India’s Covid Management Maze

India’s Covid-19 Crisis is Spiraling Out of Control. It Didn’t Have to Be This Way,’ was the headline of the lead article, published in The Time with the cover page ‘India in Crisis.’ All Indians also believe the same, as the current reality is shown virtually live in TV news channels daily, with experts commenting on the same.

Ironically, many in the country’s leadership still remain in a ‘denial mode’, even when the country records globally highest number, ever – over 402,110 daily new Covid-19 cases with 3,688 daily deaths, on April 30, 2021. One can also gauge how grim the situation is from the example of the US alert to its citizens in India. It says, ‘access to medical care is becoming severely limited because of a surge in Covid-19 infections and those wishing to leave the country should take advantage of available commercial transportation options.’

Notably, when most Indians, including the President of India, were taking pride in the country’s ‘Aatma-Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan,’ especially in the Covid-19 vaccine area, during the pandemic, the stark reality appeared to be quite different. Pandemic demonstrated that each country is, in fact, interdependent. One may not acknowledge it in the days of hubris. However, when a crisis, like Covid 2.0 strikes the nation hard and interestingly – not unannounced, as many experts write, the reality dawns. This is also a reality that India as a nation could not adequately prepare itself for Covid 2.0 onslaught, even over a yearlong Covid 1.0 pandemic.

Nonetheless, India now needs global help, almost for everything – in the prevailing calamity – Oxygen, drugs like, Remdesivir – and vaccines, besides many others. Quite expectedly, witnessing the Covid 2.0 tragedy in India ‘Aid (also) pours in from the world to counter India’s Covid-19 second wave.’ Alongside, along with Indian media, even foreign media reports, ‘Bodies piling up at crematoriums: Record death toll may hide extent of India’s COVID-19 crisis.’

Amid Covid crisis, most countries in the world, including the United Kingdom, the United States,Israel and even India’s neighboring country - Bhutan focused on the mass Covid vaccination drive – at a blistering pace, to create a herd immunity. In this article, I shall explore the drivers and barriers for India to achieve a similar goal, soon.

Current developments with vaccine in India:

The latest development is – after a protracted hesitation, the Government of India opened ‘Covid-19 vaccination for all above 18 years of age,’ effective May 01, 2021. However, not so good news is, this happened at a time when the country is experiencing a Covid-19 vaccine shortage even for all adults above 45 years of age. Believing that government has taken this decision without enough advance preparation, experts warn, India is likely to face extreme Covid vaccine shortage from May 1.

They express concern: ‘India is running out of vaccines just as the new wave of Covid-19 infections batters the country, complicating Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan to inoculate the nation’s workforce while threatening to drag out the world’s worst healthcare crisis.’

India rejected ‘emergency use’ of imported Pfizer and other vaccines, unlike other countries:

Some decisions by Indian vaccine expert panel also delayed more vaccine availability in the country for ‘emergency use,’ sooner. For example, Reuters reported on February 05, 2021, ‘Pfizer drops India vaccine application after regulator seeks local trial.’ The Company had applied to the DCGI for a waiver of a local trial for importing its mRNA vaccine in India.

Similarly, as reported on February 25, 2021, ‘Expert panel seeks safety data for Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine before emergency use nod,’ in India. Ironically, it was again rejected on April 01, 2021. However, facing the fierce Covid.2.0 wave Sputnik V vaccine is now being imported from Russia. Similarly, as reported on April 30, 2021, ‘Pfizer begins exporting U.S.-made COVID-19 vaccine to Mexico.’ Pfizer has already exported 10 million doses to Mexico.

In the quagmire of indecision, late decision and other non-life saving priorities are omnipresent:

Many Indian and overseas experts opined that valuable time was lost to have more vaccines in India, by now. This is because, amid a wrenching surge in infections and deaths, on April 14, 2021 – ultimately, India agreed to fast-track vaccine approvals for ‘emergency use,’ without local trial. These are now applicable to all those Covid vaccines that have already been authorized by ‘drug regulators in the US, UK, European Union and Japan or cleared by the WHO, without having to conduct a local bridging trial.

The above developments, I reckon, gave rise to two core issues in vaccinating the Indian population of above 18 years of age – at a ‘blistering pace,’ as happened or is happening in countries, like the UK or the US.

Whereas, for speedy mass vaccination wealthy governments took a quick decision to stock up on COVID-19 shots from Pfizer and Moderna Inc, because of their extremely high efficacy. More so, when safety concerns and production problems temporarily sidelined vaccines from AstraZeneca Plc and Johnson & Johnson.

Two core issues for a speedy vaccination process in India:

No domain experts in the world doubt that mass vaccination is India’s Covid-19 escape route from the prevailing health care massacre. However, arising out of the above developments, successful implementation of Covid vaccination process  on the ground, making it available and affordable to all, poses a giant challenge. Thus, to effectively address the two core issues, with the quality of speed that it deserves, finding answers to the following questions are critical:

  1. How to add speed to the vaccination process?
  2. How to avoid different pricing for the same vaccine for the Central Government, the State Governments and the Private Hospitals? This will give a choice to the population for speedy vaccination, removing many personal apprehensions involving the entire process.  

Let me give an example, each of the most recent quagmire related to each one of the above issues.

All vaccination centers in Mumbai were shut for three days for shortages:

Reuters reported on April 30, 2021 carrying a headline, ‘Indian states run out of COVID-19 vaccines; nationwide inoculation delayed.’ It added, several Indian states have run out of COVID-19 vaccines a day before a planned widening of a nationwide inoculation drive. Interestingly, quoting Indian authorities it elaborated: ‘All vaccination centers in India’s financial capital Mumbai were shut for three days starting Friday due to a shortage of vaccines, as the country posted another record daily rise in coronavirus cases.’ The same saga can be witnessed in the national capital of India. ‘Don’t queue up outside Covid-19 vaccination centers tomorrow, the stock will arrive in 1-2 days,’ urged the Chief Minister of Delhi.

The Government allowed Covishield and Covaxin price increase amid pandemic:

Covishield and Covaxin were being purchased by the central government at a price of Rs. 150 per/dose. While announcing Covid vaccination eligibility to all Indians above 18 years of age – despite vaccine shortages, the government allowed the two Indian vaccine manufacturers to increase the same vaccine prices – for direct supply to the state governments and private hospitals.

The manufacturers lapped up this decision and increased the vaccine prices by several times, amid catastrophic Covid 2.0 pandemic. For example, for state governments the Covishield price was raised to Rs.400/per dose and Rs.600/per dose – for Covaxin. However, facing severe criticism from all quarters the prices were revised to Rs 300 (Covishield) and Rs.400 (Covaxin). Interestingly, still the price increases were double or even more from the initial prices of Rs.150/per dose.  Interestingly, one manufacturer even boasted  this so called ‘price reduction’ from their initial humongous price increases, as a ‘philanthropic gesture’. Interesting indeed!

A hidden solution within Supreme Court questions to the Center:

While hearing a Suo Moto case in connection with the ongoing Covid 2.0 calamity in the country, the Supreme Court of India also took note of the difference in Covid vaccine prices for the Centre and the state governments. It observed Covid vaccine manufacturing is publicly funded, hence are public goods – these are ultimately meant for the people of India. At the same time, the apex court asked some of the following profound questions to the central government on Covid 2.0 management in the country:

  • Why is the center not following the national immunization program policy in its Covid-19 vaccination drive where the Centre will buy all vaccines from the manufacturers?
  • How much investment has the Centre made into the vaccine companies and given advances in the last year?
  • What has been the financial contribution by the Union govt in research etc. in the development of vaccines?
  • How will the Centre ensure registration for vaccines for illiterate people and those without internet access as registration through Co-Win is mandatory in the third phase of vaccination?
  • Will one state get priority access over another in getting the vaccines?
  • How will the Centre ensure equity by private vaccine manufacturers when it is buying only 50 percent of the doses?
  • Has the center considered invoking Section 92 of the patents act and issue compulsory licenses so that drugs can be manufactured while the royalty is sorted?
  • Why are we paying so much for this vaccine for which AstraZeneca has set at a far lower price to the US citizens?

One may possibly find a hidden solution to the question of invoking Section 92 of the Indian Patent Act (IPA 2005) to address some critical Covid vaccine related issues in India.

Is invoking section of IPA 2005 a near-term solution?

As many would know, Section 92 of the Indian Patents Act is a special provision enabling the Central Government to issue Compulsory Licenses for the manufacture of patented drugs in a public health emergency. Section 100 of the IPA enables the Central Government to use patented inventions for government purposes. Curiously, the Supreme Court of India has, reportedly, also observed: “This is an exact case where we should go for compulsory licensing. This is a situation of Public Health Emergency.”

Just to recap, on October 02, 2021, India and South Africa had proposed at the WTO about an IP waiver for Covid-19 drugs and vaccines that could help resolve the urgent issues of access and affordability to these products. It has also been reported: ‘Richer members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) blocked a push by over 80 developing countries on Wednesday to waive patent rights in an effort to boost production of COVID-19 vaccines for poor nations.’

Although, U.S. Trade Representative has recently met with Pfizer and AstraZeneca to discuss this proposed IP waiver for Covid vaccines and drugs, what stops India to invoke Section 92 and 100 of its own Patent Act even during this seemingly uncontrollable Covid 2.0 pandemic?

The April 06, 2021 article of the Observer Research Foundation aptly epitomized the need of the hour. It articulated: ‘As the pandemic continues to rage, countries collectively have to find innovative ways to not just increase the production of vaccines, but also ensure their timely distribution at affordable prices.” Such an initiative may encourage more manufacturers in India to manufacture enough Covid vaccine, facilitating speedy inoculation to Indians and at the same time the government can make its price affordable for all concerned.


The question, therefore, arises: Is India’s exit to the Covid 2.0 maze now visible? But, before arriving at any possible conclusion in this regard, one may try to address, at least, the following two critical questions:

  • Can Covid vaccines be reverse-engineered by domestic pharma industry without inventors sharing ‘Know-How’?
  • Can the IP waiver by the WTO or invocation of section 92 and 100 of IPA 2005 by India, legally mandate vaccine developers, like AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech or Johnson & Johnson, to share know-how with others, if they do not want to do so?

The resolution of the above issues won’t happen in a jiffy – at this stage. It may take more time. So, I reckon, will be the search for a permanent exit to India’s Covid 2.0 management maze, to avoid a similar strike by Covid 3.0, if or as and when it will come. Thus, till all adult Indians get vaccinated, each one of us must comply with Covid appropriate behavior responsibly, to save ourselves, our families, neighborhood, and above all our own nation.

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.

“Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients”: Exploring the book to be released in the Indian context

The title of today’s article could make some of the readers uncomfortable and angry, just as what I experienced while writing the same, being a long time follower and student of the pharmaceutical industry, both global and local.

Ethical business conduct and value standards, especially of medium, large to very large pharmaceutical corporations both in India and across the world are coming increasingly under stakeholders’ scrutiny, besides being severely criticized for non-compliance in many instances by the regulators, judiciary and public at large. We shall find many such examples over a long period of time even from within our own land.

There is no global consensus, as yet, on what is ethically and morally acceptable ‘Business Ethics and Values’ across the world, although there are some very strong common parameters that can be globally followed.

In many companies’ websites such standards are also available in their minutest details. Unfortunately, even some of those companies are also being reportedly held guilty for blatant violations of their own set standards of ethics and compliance.

This trend could prompt one to believe, sincere attempts are still lacking to ensure effective implementation of such well drafted ‘Business Ethics and Values’ in country-specific ways by many of these companies.

The most challenging obstacle to overcome in this area by the corporates, I reckon, would still remain ‘walking the talk’, owning the responsibility and taking sustainable remedial measures, at least when these violations are conclusively established followed by penal actions.

A new book with graphic details: 

In this context, ‘The Economist’ in its September 29, 2012 reviewed a book titled ‘Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients’, written by Ben Goldacre, a British doctor and science writer. According to Amazon the book is due to be released on January 8, 2013.

In this book the author describes incidences of routine corruption in the healthcare system and brings out to the fore citing details of some of the following areas, how patients’ interests are being continuously and blatantly compromised by many pharmaceutical companies unabated, just for commercial gain:

  1. Pharmaceutical companies bury clinical trials which show bad results for a drug and publish only those that show a benefit.
  2. The trials are often run on small numbers of unrepresentative patients, and the statistical analyses are massaged to give as rosy a picture as possible.
  3. Entire clinical trials are run not as trials at all, but as ‘under-the-counter advertising campaigns’ designed to persuade doctors to prescribe a company’s drug.

Dr. Ben Goldacre does not spare the drug regulators also as he writes, ‘drug regulators, who do get access to some of the hidden results, often guard them jealously, even from academic researchers, seeming to serve the interests of the firms whose products they are supposed to police.’

The author also writes that ‘many studies published in reputed medical journals are written by the commercial ghostwriters, who are paid by the pharmaceutical companies and are not written by those whose names appear as the author of those studies. He laments that based on such clinical trial reports blitzkrieg expensive marketing campaigns are conducted to influence doctors prescribing such drugs.

None of the above instances is unreported in India, may be in forms which are many shades worse than what has been described by Dr. Ben Goldacre in his above book.

‘The Economist’ recommends that ‘this is a book that deserves to be widely read, because anyone who does read it cannot help feeling both uncomfortable and angry’.

India can’t delay tightening its belt any further:

The concerns of Dr. Ben Goldacre are also being expressed in India quite vocally, almost in all the areas as mentioned above. Thus India needs to tighten its regulatory systems and ensure proper implementation of all its policies, and if required framing some new ones, so that the country can come out of this quagmire which severely hurts the patients’ interests at large.

Among many others, two critical areas where such alleged corporate malpractices are being continuously reported are as follows:

I. Clinical Trials

II. Marketing Practices 

I. Ethical concerns over Clinical Trial in India are not getting mitigated:

Clinical trial system still remains a critical area of concern in India. The Bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO) in an article titled, “Clinical trials in India: ethical concerns” reported as follows:

“Drug companies are drawn to India for several reasons, including a technically competent workforce, patient availability, low costs and a friendly drug-control system. While good news for India’s economy, the booming clinical trial industry is raising concerns because of a lack of regulation of private trials and the uneven application of requirements for informed consent and proper ethics review.”

Because of this reason, on October 8, 2012 the Supreme Court reportedly asked the government to provide details of clinical trials being conducted across the country, which will include drug side effects and clinical trial related deaths, in which case compensation, if any, paid to the victims or to their family members.

This direction came from the apex court of the country while hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) alleging Indian citizens are being used as guinea pigs during clinical trials by the pharmaceutical companies all over the country, mainly due to lack of informed consent of the enrolled patients and thereafter short changing their interest citing various reasons.

Clinical-trials process of the country is now, therefore, under intense scrutiny of the government, NGOs and also of the judiciary after a number of scandals focusing on malpractices, somewhat similar to what Dr. Ben Goldacre has highlighted in his book, as mentioned above. These series of events have recently prompted the regulators to come out with proposals of reforms in this important area, for all concerned.

The Parliament intervened:

Recently the department related ‘Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC)’ on Health and Family Welfare presented its 59th Report on the functioning of the Indian Drug Regulator – the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) in both the houses of the Parliament on May 08, 2012.

The PSC in its report made, the following critical findings, besides others:

  • “A total of 31 new drugs were approved in the period January 2008 to October 2010 without conducting clinical trials on Indian patients.
  • Thirteen drugs scrutinized by the panel are not allowed to be sold in the United States, Canada, Britain, European Union and Australia.
  • Sufficient evidence is available on record to conclude that there is collusive nexus between drug manufacturers, some functionaries of CDSCO and some medical experts.
  • Due to the sensitive nature of clinical trials in which foreign companies are involved in a big way and a wide spectrum of ethical issues and legal angles, different aspects of clinical trials need a thorough and in-depth review.”

Regulators woke-up:

In response to the prevailing conundrum, ‘The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’ of the Government of India issued a draft notification on 17th July, 2012 seeking stakeholders’ views on the ‘Permission to conduct Clinical Trial’.

The draft notification says that the licensing authority only after being satisfied with the adequacy of the data submitted by the applicant in support of proposed clinical trial, shall issue permission to conduct clinical trial, subject to compliance of specified stringent conditions.

However, some experts do apprehend that such stringent system could give rise to significant escalation in the costs of clinical trials for the pharmaceutical players.

Similarly to assess right compensation for clinical trial related injuries or deaths following parameters were mooted in the document:

  • Age of the deceased
  • Income of the deceased
  • Seriousness and severity of the disease, the subject was suffering at the time of his/her participation into the trial.
  • Percentage of permanent disability.

 II. Ethical concerns on marketing malpractices in India: 

This issue has no longer remained a global concern. Frequent reports by Indian media have already triggered a raging debate in the country on the subject, involving even the Government and also the Parliament. It has been reported that a related case is now pending with the Supreme Court for hearing in not too distant future.

In 2010, ‘The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health’ expressed its deep concern that “the evil practice” of inducement of doctors continued because the Medical Council of India (MCI) had no jurisdiction over the pharma industry and it could not enforce the code of ethics on it.’

It was widely reported that the letter of the Congress Member of Parliament, Dr. Jyoti Mirdha to the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, attaching a bunch of photocopies of the air tickets to claim that ‘doctors and their families were beating the scorching Indian summer with a trip to England and Scotland, courtesy a pharmaceutical company’, compelled the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to initiate inquiry and action on the subject.

The letter had claimed that as many as 30 family members of 11 doctors from all over India enjoyed the hospitality of the pharmaceutical company.

In addition Dr. Mirdha reportedly wrote to the PMO that “The malpractice did not come to an end because while medical profession (recipients of incentives) is subjected to a mandatory code, there is no corresponding obligation on the part of the healthcare industry (givers of incentives). Result: Ingenious methods have been found to flout the code.”

The report also indicated at that time that the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) is trying to involve the Department of Revenue under the Ministry of Finance to explore the possibilities in devising methods to link the money trail to offending companies and deny the tax incentives.

Incidences of such alleged malpractices related to financial relationship between the pharmaceutical companies and the medical profession are unfolding reasonably faster now. All these issues are getting increasingly dragged into the public debate where government can no longer play the role of a mere bystander.

Taking the first step closer to that direction, Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), which is a part of Department of Revenue in the Ministry of Finance has now decided to disallow expenses on all ‘freebies’ to Doctors by the Pharmaceutical Companies in India.

A circular dated August 1, 2012 of the CBDT that the any expenses incurred by the pharmaceutical companies on gifts and other ‘freebies’ given to the doctors will no longer be allowed as business expenses. 


Statistics of compliance to ‘The Codes of Business Ethics & Corporate Values’ are important to know, but demonstrable qualitative changes in the ethics and value standards of an organization should always be the most important goal to drive any business corporation, the pharmaceutical industry being no exception.

The need to formulate ‘Codes of Business Ethics & Values’ and even more importantly their compliance are gradually gaining importance and relevance in the globalized business environment.

However, quite in conflict with the above initiative, at the same time, many pharmaceutical corporations across the world are being increasingly forced to come to terms with the heavy costs and consequences of ‘unethical behavior and business practices’ by the respective governments and judiciary. Unfortunately the Juggernaut still keeps moving, perhaps arising out of intense pressure for corporate business performance.

I am not quite sure though, whether such an expectation for ‘Corporate Ethics and Values’ is ‘utopian’ for the pharmaceutical industry or can be translated into reality with some amount of sincere efforts and commitment. However, if it does not happen, sooner than later, the ‘Bad Pharma’ image of the pharmaceutical industry across the world, as enunciated by Dr. Ben Goldacre in his book, will continue to linger inviting increasingly fierce public wrath along with stringent government regulatory controls and judicial interventions.

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.

Bollywood Matinee Idol Pontifies on Pharma FDI with Razzmatazz: Exploring Facts

It has been widely reported  by the media that Bollywood matinee idol Aamir Khan was invited by the Parliamentary Standing Committee  (PSC) on commerce to express his views on Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) in the pharmaceutical sector of India on June 21, 2012.

The actor reportedly has suggested regulations on FDI in the pharma sector to protect the domestic pharmaceutical companies, as well as, any consequent adverse impact on the patients in terms of availability of cheaper generic medicines.

There is absolutely nothing wrong or surprising in the actor’s deposition to the PSC or for that matter in his expressing views on the subject from any platform of his choice. Every citizen of India has got the full right to express his/her views on any matter to the public in general, law or policy makers or any other august body as the person will deem necessary, for the best interest of the country. It is up to the astute individual members or the institutions to extract the essence of the key issues out of all such deliberations based on hard facts and help the nation to move in the right direction for its economic progress with inclusive growth.

That said, one also expects that just charismatic persona of a matinee idol with well-articulated and perfectly modulated pontification, in an expertly manner, on the “do’s and don’ts” of the FDI in Pharma, should not overwhelm anyone, without appropriate substantiation with intimately related hard facts and examples.

From my own perspective, let me now explore the facts on this highly contentious issue for you to judge.

Pharma industry is going through a consolidation process:

Like in many other countries, the consolidation process within the Pharmaceutical Industry in India has also started gaining momentum. Post amendment of the Indian Products Patent Act in January 1, 2005, first major M&A activity took place in 2006 with Mylan acquiring Matrix Lab.

2008 witnessed one of the biggest acquisition in the Pharmaceutical Industry of India, when the third largest drug maker of Japan, Daiichi Sankyo acquired 63.9% stake of Ranbaxy Laboratories for USD 4.6 billion.

This M&A activity was widely believed to be a win-win deal, with Daiichi Sankyo leveraging the cost arbitrage of Ranbaxy, while Ranbaxy benefiting from the innovative product range of Daiichi Sankyo.

In May 2010, Chicago (USA) based Abbott Laboratories acquired the branded generic business of Piramal Healthcare with USD 3.72 billion. This particular acquisition reportedly triggered the Government’s thinking in instituting newer restrictions on FDI in the pharmaceutical sector of the country.

However, I reckon, any such move will be a retrograde step in the financial reform process of India and could adversely affect foreign investments not only in the Pharmaceuticals sector, but possibly far beyond it.

Key Acquisitions of Indian companies:

Following are the details of M&As (Mergers & Acquisitions) in India from 2006 to 2011:

Year Indian Companies Multinational Companies

Value ($Mn)

2006 Matrix Labs Mylan 736 Acquisition
2008 Ranbaxy Labs Daiichi Sankyo 4,600 Acquisition
Dabur Pharma Fresenius Kabi 219 Acquisition
2009 Shantha Biotech Sanofi-aventis 783 Acquisition
2010 Orchid Chemicals Hospira 400 Business Buyout
Piramal Healthcare Abbott 3,720 Business Buyout
Paras Pharma Reckitt Benckiser 726 Acquisition
2011 Universal Medicare Sanofi 110 Acquisition

It is worth mentioning that all these acquisitions were voluntary in nature, which considerably helped shifting the investment focus of the MNCs into India. This is mainly because the country offers a good science and technology base with a significant cost arbitrage along with a thriving, yet inadequately penetrated, domestic pharmaceutical market.

Key apprehensions on FDI in pharma and the facts:

The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) of the Ministry of Commerce and Industries in its ‘Discussion Paper’ dated August 24, 2010, which was primarily on Compulsory Licensing (CL), also expressed some of the following apprehensions towards foreign acquisitions of the Indian pharmaceutical companies:

I would like to address these key apprehensions as stated below:

Apprehension 1. Oligopolistic Market will be created with adverse impact on ‘Public Health Interest’

The dictionary defines ‘Oligopolistic Market’ as ‘a market condition in which sellers are so few that the actions of any one of them will materially affect price and have a measurable impact on competitors’.

Indian Pharmaceutical Market (IPM) has over 23,000 players and around 60,000 brands (Source: IMS 2011). Even after, all the recent acquisitions, the top ranked pharmaceutical company of India – Abbott enjoys a market share of just 6.2% (Source: AIOCD/AWACS, March 2011). The Top 10 groups of companies (each belonging to the same promoter groups and not the individual companies) contribute just over 40% of the IPM.

Thus, IPM is highly fragmented. No company or a group of companies enjoys any clear cut market domination. In a scenario like this, the apprehension of an ‘Oligopolistic Market’ being created through acquisitions by the MNCs is indeed unfounded.

Apprehension 2. ‘Oligopolistic’ situation will severely limit the power of the government to face the challenge of Public Health Interest (PHI) by granting CLs:

With a CL, the Indian Government can authorize any pharmaceutical company to make any medicine needed by the country on an emergency basis. With more than 20,000 registered pharmaceutical manufacturing companies operating in India,[1] there will always be enough skilled and able manufacturers willing to make needed medicines during any type of emergency situations. The country has already witnessed this during the H1N1 influenza pandemic, when several domestic and global pharmaceutical companies stepped forward to supply medicines in adequate quantity to meet the urgent need of the ailing patients.

The very thought of creating a legal barrier by fixing a cap on the FDI to prevent the domestic pharma players from selling their respective companies at a market driven price, which they would consider lucrative, just from the CL point of view, as mentioned in the ‘Discussion Paper’ of DIPP, sounds unreasonable, prejudiced and highly protectionist in the globalized economy.

Apprehension 3.  Lesser competition will push up drug prices:

Equity holding of a company has no bearing on the pricing or access to drugs, especially when medicine prices are controlled strictly by the NPPA guidelines and a highly competitive market condition.

That competition within the pharmaceutical market is extremely fierce in India is vindicated by the following facts:

  1. Each branded generic/ generic molecule (constituting over 99% of the IPM) has not less than 50 to 60 competitors within the same chemical compound.
  2. 100% of the IPM is price regulated by the government, around 20% under cost based price control as per DPCO 95 and the balance 80% is under stringent price monitoring mechanism with a maximum annual price increase cap being effectively in place.

In an environment like this, any apprehension or threat to ‘Public Health Interest’ due to irresponsible pricing, will be highly imaginary in nature, especially when the medicine prices in India are cheapest in the world, cheaper than even our next door neighbors like, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

As stated above, Ranbaxy was the first major Indian drug company to be acquired by the Japanese MNC Daiichi Sankyo in June 2008. Two years later, the prices of medicines of Ranbaxy did remain stable, some in fact even declined. As per IMS MAT, June data, prices of Ranbaxy products grew only by 0.6% in 2009 and actually fell by 1% in 2010.

Similar trend has been observed even for other acquisitions, as well.

Investments through ‘Collaborative deals’:

Following are some important collaborative deals in the pharmaceutical sector of India from 2009 to 2011:

Year Multinational Companies Indian Companies
2009 GSK Dr. Reddy’s Lab
Pfizer Aurobindo Pharma
2010 AstraZeneca Torrent
Abbott Cadila Healthcare
Pfizer Strides Arcolab
AstraZeneca Aurobindo Pharma
Pfizer Biocon


Cadila Healthcare


Sun Pharma

Such deals help the domestic pharmaceutical industry to reap a rich harvest in many other ways.

Positive fall outs of acquisitions/collaborations:

Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) or ‘Brownfield’ investments and collaborative deals contribute significantly not only to create high-value jobs for Indians[2] but also enable access to high-tech equipment and capital goods for the country.

Technology cooperation from the global pharmaceutical industry also stimulates growth in the manufacturing and R&D space of the domestic industry and positively impacts patients’ health with increased access to breakthrough medicines and vaccines. 

In this process, with adequate stimulus to the pharmaceutical R&D, India too could fast evolve as a country with a strong research-based pharmaceutical industry capable of developing innovative medicines and inventing new drugs for the world at large.

Many countries, including India, have instituted programs and policy reforms to attract FDI in the pharmaceutical sector. These programs include substantial efforts to build up the R&D infrastructure and create a pool of qualified and talented work force.

Currently, there is a strong global competition for such investments. Countries recognize that pharmaceutical companies bring high-paying jobs, technology know-how and significant economic spill-over effects. As per reports, in the United States, each job in the research-based pharmaceutical industry supports an additional 3.7 additional jobs in the U.S.[3]

By attracting high quality FDI in the pharmaceutical sector, India can further improve its sectoral capabilities and help honing skills of its talent pool. All these, in turn, will also give rise to increasing  global penetration of pharmaceutical exports of the country.[4]

India still draws lowest FDI within the BRIC countries:

A new study of the United Nations has recently reported that large global companies still consider India as their third most favored destination for FDI, after China and the United States.

However, with the attraction of FDI of just US$ 32 billion in 2011, against US$ 124 billion of China, US$ 67 billion of Brazil and US$ 53 billion of Russia during the same period, India still draws the lowest FDI among the BRIC countries.

At a time when the Global Companies are sitting on a huge cash pile and waiting for the euro zone crisis to melt away before investing overseas, any retrograde steps by India related to FDI in its pharmaceutical sector may not augur well for the nation.

Many countries are trying hard to attract FDI:

While our Government has been publicly debating policies to discourage foreign investment, other countries have stepped forward to attract FDI in their respective countries.  Between October 2010 and January 2011, more than 27 countries and economies have adopted policy measures to attract foreign investment.[6]

Access to generic medicines cannot be improved by restricting FDI:

The Pharmaceutical sector in India was opened up for 100% FDI through automatic route, only in the year 2002. This reformed FDI policy regime has been helping India as an attractive investment destination for pharmaceuticals.

Access to generic medicines cannot be improved by restricting FDI. Following measures and many more are required to address this critical issue in the country:

  • The Government has already signaled increasing allocation of resources towards the health sector by doubling the funding available for the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM).
  • It is also planning to extend the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) scheme to provide out-patient coverage to low income groups.
  • Currently the government seems to be quite poised to distribute all essential drugs to the patients free of cost through public hospitals and dispensaries.
  • Effective implementation of the ‘Universal Healthcare’ project in India will also help improving access to healthcare, including medicines, significantly.
  • Increase in allocation of expenditure towards health from 1.1% of the GDP in the 11th Five Year Plan Period to proposed 2.5% in the 12th Five Year Plan Period is a step in the right direction.
  • Healthcare financing will offer an enduring mechanism for reducing the Out-of-Pocket expenses of the poor, versus short term ‘knee jerk’ measures.
  • Allocating resources from national welfare schemes towards health insurance coverage would be a step in the right direction.  For example, a portion of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) funds could be spent on health insurance premium for workers engaged in such work.

Protectionism is harmful”:

It is worth mentioning that our Government has been publicly expressing its views against the concept of ‘Protectionism in Business’ over a period of time.

“Protectionism is harmful” was very aptly commented by Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, the then Finance Minister and now one of the Presidential nominees of India. This comment was in context of “US moves to hike visa fees and clamp down on outsourcing”.

India now needs to ‘Walk the Talk’.

Unfortunately, even recently, on July 3, 2012 Indian media  reports indicate that the Government is still mulling proposals to restrict FDI in India.  It stated, “The new rules will require the foreign investor to give an undertaking that if the company is investing in producing an essential drug, as mentioned in the government list of such drugs, then it will continue to produce that medicine”.

99% of the total pharmaceutical market in India constitutes of generic/branded generic medicines with over 23,000 manufacturers and 60,000 brands. In such a scenario, apprehensions that generic medicines, including those featuring in the National List of Essential of Medicines 2011 (NLEM 2011) will not be produced in India, is indeed intriguing.


In the light of ‘2010 Economic Survey of India’, the nation acknowledges the need to attract foreign investors in the country.  Increasing foreign investments due to liberalization of FDI policies over the past two decades have benefited the Indian companies in terms of technology cooperation (technology transfer), greater resource mobilization and new market access opportunities.

Collaborative deals with the MNCs are enabling the local pharmaceutical companies to gain access to international expertise, increasing resources and world class manufacturing practices.

Any possible adverse impact of M&A on competition can now be effectively taken care of by the ‘Competition Commission of India (CCI)’. In addition, apprehension for any unreasonable price increases will appropriately be addressed by the ‘National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA)’, as is the current practice.

Thus, in my view, limiting FDI in the pharmaceutical sector of India, at this stage, without any substantive reason and just based on unfounded apprehensions, even when the Government is debating to open up the retail and the insurance sectors to foreign investors, will be a retrograde step in the reform process of the country, pontification with razzmatazz of a Bollywood Matinee Idol notwithstanding.

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.

Exploring a new ‘Business Model’ to improve access to healthcare in rural India with the industry participation

Rural India – the home of around 72% of 1.12 billion population of India is undergoing a metamorphosis, as it were. Disposable income of this population is slowly but steadily rising, as evidenced by rapid market penetration of the ‘Fast Moving Consume Goods (FMCG)’ industry in general and companies like Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) and Dabur in particular.

Size of the Healthcare Sector in India:

It has been reported that the current size of the healthcare industry in India ia around US $ 23 billion or around 5.2% of the GDP. Though the sector is showing an overall healthy growth of around 13%, public expenditure towards healthcare is just around 0.9% of the GDP of the country. As per WHO (2005) per capita government expenditure on health in India was just around US $7, against US $31 of China, US $24 of Sri Lanka, US $11 of Kenya and US $12 of Indonesia.

Currently the number of Government Hospitals/Healthcare centers in India are grossly inadequate and are as follows:

  • Medical Colleges: 242
  • Community Health centers: 3346
  • District Hospitals: 4400
  • Other Public Hospitals: 1200
  • Primary Health Centers: 23236
  • Subcenters: 146026
  • Number of Hospitals in rural areas: 53400
  • Population to rely on Public Hospitals: 43%

Even with the above network of public healthcare centers in India, overall effectiveness of public healthcare delivery system is very poor in the country. Increasing penetration of Information Technology could perhaps partially address this problem.

Growth drivers of rural India?

I reckon, mainly the following reasons attribute to the growth of the rural economy:

- Gradual increase in procurement prices of food grains by the government and waiver of agricultural loans to the tune of US$13.9 billion

- Growing non-farm income: Currently more than 50% of rural income is through non-farm sources, fuelled by various non-farm activities like food-processing, manufacturing, trading, in addition to the income flow from the rural migrants.

– Increased spending by the Government, which is expected to be around US$ 20 billion by March 2010, in the rural areas through various projects and schemes, like National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), Bharat Nirman Program etc. coupled with easier access to requisite loans and credits, have improved the spending power of rural households significantly.

Though the government is making heavy budgetary allocations in rural India to improve the basic infrastructural facilities, healthcare and education, the implementation of most of these schemes still remains far from satisfactory, as of now.

A gaping hole in the rural healthcare space:
In the healthcare space of rural India there is still a gaping hole in various efforts of both the government and the private players to create a robust primary healthcare infrastructure for the common man. Thus poor access to healthcare services, coupled with lack of ability to pay for such services and medicines round the year, are the key challenges that the country will need to overcome. Lack of disease awareness and poor affordability towards healthcare services, still account for 60% of rural ailments not getting treated at all.

Key shortcomings of the current rural healthcare infrastructure:

Despite the numbers quoted above, following shortcomings continue to exist in the healthcare infrastructure of the country:
- Number of Primary Health Centers (PHC) are far less than the budgetary estimate/allocation
- Inadequate treatment facilities even where the PHCs exist
- Shortage of doctors, nurses and paramedics
- Very high rate of absenteeism

Pharmaceutical companies in India should now explore fortune at the ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ to reap a rich harvest, creating a win-win situation:

If the pharmaceutical companies operating within the country, partner with the government and other key stakeholders, as a part of their corporate business strategy, to make a fortune from the ‘bottom of the pyramid’, this critical issue can be effectively resolved, sooner. Novartis India has already ventured into this area and has tasted reasonable success with their ‘Arogya Parivar’ program.

However, in my view additional sets of the following value delivery objectives need to be considered to make this the rural healthcare mission with PPP initiatives successful:

- Affordable medicines of high quality standard
- Increase in health awareness by collaborating with the NGOs and rural institutions for various common diseases.
- Continuing Medical Education (CME) for the rural doctors and para-medics
- Arranging microfinance for the healthcare professionals to create small micro- level healthcare infrastructure and also for the patients to undergo treatment
- Help reducing the transaction cost of medicines and healthcare services through fiscal measures by collaborating with the government
- The product portfolio to be tailor made to address the common healthcare needs of rural India

Private healthcare facilities are preferred to public healthcare facilities even in the rural India:

Irrespective of rich or poor, around 80% of the population in India prefer private domiciliary treatment facilities and 50% of the same prefer private hospital treatment services. However, let me hasten to add that even within the private healthcare space in rural India, a lot needs to be done. Many so called ‘doctors’, who are practicing in rural India, have no formal medical qualifications. Moreover, even such doctors are not available in villages with a population of around 300 to 500 households.

The key success factors of the rural marketing ‘Business Model’:

Urban pharmaceutical marketing model, I reckon, should not be replicated for ‘rural pharmaceutical marketing’, as the success factors required for each of them, is quite different. In rural marketing the stakeholders’ needs and wants are quite different. If these are not properly identified and thereafter adequately addressed, mostly through collaborative initiatives, the rural pharmaceutical marketing ‘Business Model’ may not fly at all.

Partnership with Microfinance Institutions will be a key requirement:

Interested pharmaceutical companies will need to collaborate with the rural microfinance institutions for such business initiatives. This will ensure that appropriate loans can be extended to doctors and retailers, wherever needed, to help them create requisite local healthcare infrastructure to make such projects viable and successful. At the same time, such institutions will also require to help the needy rural population with requisite loans to help meeting their cost of medical treatment.


From a ‘back of the envelope calculation’ it appears that such projects can definitely be made profitable with a modest gross margin of around 40% – 50% and operating profit of around 6% to 8% . The high volume of turnover from over 650 million population of India, will make these ‘rural pharmaceutical marketing projects’ viable. Simultaneously, such corporate business initiatives will help alleviating pain and suffering from diseases of a vast majority of the rural population of India.

By Tapan 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.

‘Prescription-brand’ loyalty and engaged field force – exploring the direct relationship.

Well known English writer and one of the most prominent members of the famous ‘Huxley family’, Aldous Huxley once said in the context of nature, “Everything has a cause and the same cause usually produces same effect. The law of cause and effect is fixed.”
‘Cause and effect’ relationship between ‘employee satisfaction’ and ‘customer satisfaction’:Following such ‘cause and effect’ relationship, there are many studies, which establish a direct correlation between ‘customers satisfaction’ and ‘satisfied employees’. Within the pharmaceutical industry, it has now been well established that there is a cause-and-effectrelationship between Doctors’ prescription-brand loyalty and a satisfied or properly engaged sales & marketing staff.

For most organizations, the objective of improving the satisfaction level or increasing the degree of engagement of an employee in the organization is an article of faith. Research studies on this subject indicate that building customer loyalty has a significant impact on profitability of the organization. A study based on 46,000 business-to-business surveys reports that a “totally satisfied” customer contributes 2.6 times more revenue than a “somewhat satisfied” customer.

‘Walking the talk’ is the name of the game:

It is extremely difficult if not impossible to create a critical mass of loyal doctors’ base for a brand or brands without a creating a team of satisfied, engaged or loyal sales & marketing team. The best employees usually prefer to work for companies where managers ‘walk the talk’, set examples and deliver superior values.

Acid test of leadership:

A work environment of such kind helps to create employee satisfaction, loyalty and engagement, which ultimately gets translated into building customer loyalty. Ensuring employee loyalty and creating employee satisfaction is, therefore, considered widely as the acid test of leadership.

Creating a positive psyche within employees is important, usual skill training is just not enough:

To create employee loyalty the organization will need to understand the mind of its employee and always try to have a positive influence on their psyche. Usual skill training will not help to achieve it.
Just as sowing a seed is no guarantee that it will grow into a plant, a highly skilled sales person is no guarantee that it will contribute to the growth of the organization. Just as one will need to create an environment for the seed grow into a plant, the organization will need to create an environment for employee satisfaction to enable them contributing towards the growth of the organization.

In HR invest resources where the mouth is:

It is very important for the managers to devote more resources both in terms of money and time to play the role of a mentor to each one of his or her direct reports to improve their satisfaction level with the organization. These satisfied employees will in turn help create a core group of prescription brand loyal doctors for the organization.

‘Charity begins at home’:

However, ironically most of these managers do not realize that attempts at their end towards this objective, many a times, are just cosmetic in nature. As the saying goes, “charity begins at home”…real enhancement in the level of customer services, indeed starts from extending superior services, support and satisfaction level to the sales force, the bedrock for generation of prescription demands for the prescription brands.

Facing the ‘moments of truths’ of every day positively:

Pursuit of an organization in providing great services to the patients through doctors ultimately depends on the people who provide those services…the sales force. It can only happen through one’s willingness to go beyond what is required of people who serve on the front lines.

Excellence in organizational performance takes place through efforts of frontline employees who make up their minds to face the “moments of truth” of every day, as positively as they possibly can. Such enthusiasm, loyalty, or devotion none will be able to impose on any one. These ordinary people are transformed into ‘brave hearts’ and highly satisfied top performers only through well articulated “shared values”, which take their deep roots within the organizational environment. In a situation like this one can easily make out the visible passion and pride of the frontline staff, emanating from deep within, of each one of them.

Some research findings:

Following are some examples from various research findings, which reinforce the hypotheses that there is a ‘cause and effect’ relationship between ‘customers satisfaction’ and ‘satisfied employees’:

• “For every one percent increase in internal service climate there is a two percent increase in

• “In cardiac care units where nurses’ moods were depressed, patient death rates were four times
higher than in comparable units”.

• Emotional commitment of the sales force and sense of identity with the company are key factors in
providing excellent service to the doctors.

• The reason of poor prescription demand of a company’s products is related to the degree of its sales
staff turnover.


Therefore, one tends to believe that “a company’s external customer service is only as strong as the company’s internal leadership and the culture of commitment that this leadership creates”.

To transform one’s organization from “Good to Great” it is of utmost importance to build a team of loyal and satisfied ‘internal customers’ by creating a commensurate organizational culture, work environment, ethics and values. Various training & development programs or seminars, aiming only at employee ‘skill development’, are just not enough.

By Tapan 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.