A brief chronology of some recent events on issues pertaining to patient-health-safety with drugs, as captured below, would possibly generate a mixed feeling for many. This includes a serious concern about, especially generic drug quality safety standards in India, on the one hand, and a ray of hope in the tools available to patients to know more about drugs that they have been prescribed. In this article, I shall dwell on this area. My intent is to bring to the fore the vital point – Is the beginning of the end of a long dark tunnel in sight now?
A chronology of some recent events:
As reported on July 16, 2023, while talking on the subject, “Pharmaceutical Quality — What are we missing?”, the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) made a notable comment. He, reportedly, said that the poor quality of drugs exported from India to foreign countries had tarnished the image of the country in the international market. The DCGI further added, pharmaceutical quality has become a subject of discussion on the global platform and the international community has started doubting whether India is capable of making quality pharmaceuticals for the global population.
He underscored, “We boast of our country as the pharmacy of the world, but it seems that it is too difficult to maintain the top position for long. If the position is lost, it will be painful and difficult to restore the faith of the international community. Further, we will lose the opportunity to serve the whole humanity of the world. The responsibility of the loss will not only fall on the manufacturers, but equally on all the stakeholders.”
Alongside, a news report on August 01, 2023, brings some hope in this regard, which I shall elaborate in course of this deliberation.
A long saga of events:
Yes, as it appears from the following backdrop:
Over the last several decades, there have been many instances where international drug regulators, including the U.S. FDA, expressed concerns about the quality standards of Indian manufactured drugs. These concerns have generally been related to specific manufacturing facilities – ranging from top domestic manufacturers to smaller ones, raising an uncomfortable apprehension – does India produce ’World-Class’ medicines, for all?
About a decade ago, one of the most well-known cases was in 2013 when the U.S. FDA issued an import alert on products from the Ranbaxy Laboratories facility in India due to data integrity and manufacturing quality issues. This led to significant scrutiny of other Indian pharmaceutical companies as well. Issues related to data integrity, product quality, and good manufacturing practices lead to inspections, warning letters, import alerts, or other regulatory measures.
It continued. For example, around that time, even Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, one of India’s largest pharmaceutical companies, received a warning letter from the U.S. FDA in 2015 (Source: U.S. FDA). Similarly, Wockhardt, another top Indian pharmaceutical company, faced regulatory scrutiny in 2013 when the U.S. FDA issued an import alert and seized products manufactured at their facility in India. The FDA raised concerns about violations of good manufacturing practices and data integrity issues at the facility. This led to recalls of several products and affected the company’s reputation. (Source: Reuters).
As the juggernaut kept moving, on December 08, 2016, I wrote in this blog, “Even Smaller Countries Now Question Indian Drug Quality Standard.” On March 04, 2023, the Mint reported, “Death of children in Gambia linked to consumption of India made cough syrups, as the US CDC report states.”
As I write, the veracity of impact of such incidences remains as serious, if not more, although instances seem to be much fewer. For instance, as reported by Reuters on August 01, 2023: “India has directed Riemann Labs, a manufacturer linked to cough syrup deaths in Cameroon, to stop manufacturing activities, the country’s health ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.”
Thus, On May 27, 2019, I again wrote about: “Drug Quality Imbroglio And ‘Culture of Bending Rules’ in India” in this blog– and that was not the first time I flagged this menace in the country against patient safety.
Even big Indian pharma continued to be struggling with GMP issues:
Big Indian pharma companies are also involved in issues related to lapses in high drug quality standards even recently. Such as, even in 2021, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, received a warning letter from the U.S. FDA after an inspection of their manufacturing facility in India. The letter cited violations of good manufacturing practices, data integrity issues, and inadequate investigations of product complaints. Source: The Economic Times). Just a year before, in 2020, the U.S. FDA noted several observations related to good manufacturing practices and quality control. (Source: Moneycontrol).
Drug regulators fight the fire as and when it comes up:
Both the state drug regulators and the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) fight the fire at the respective manufacturing locations, as and when these come up. No significant actions on the ground for patient safety against such drugs were visible on the ground.
For example, as reported on August 03, 2023: “Following recent incidents of several countries reporting deaths allegedly linked to “contaminated” India-manufactured drugs, the government has set a deadline for mandatory implementation of the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) which were revised in 2018, bringing them on par with World Health Organization (WHO) standards.”
The government ponders making technological interventions for patients:
There are early signs of the government trying to embrace technology for patients’ safety. For example on November 17, 2022, the Union Health Ministry released a gazette notification no 823Eimplementing the Drugs (Eighth Amendment) Rules, 2022, making it mandatory for pharmaceutical companies to affix a QR code on the pack of top 300 formulations from August 1, 2023. A QR code, as reported, will contain the unique product identification code, generic name of the drug, brand name, name and address of the manufacturer, batch number, date of manufacture, expiry date and manufacturing license number.
This was part of the Ministry’s ‘track and trace’ mechanism, and of course, an intent at that time. However, a specific timeline for implantation has now been clearly enunciated.
This time it’s a two-pronged action:
For the first time, I think, a two-pronged action has been announced by the government – an enabling action for patients on the one hand against a strong punitive measure for the errant drug manufacturers on the other:
According to the above gazette notification of the Union Ministry of Health, on August 01, 2023, the central government announced stricter regulations for drug authentication and transparency by imposing mandatory QR codes on drugs. This will be effective from the same day. Patients will now be able to check the QR code on their medicines to ensure their authenticity.
On August 03, 2023, the government set a deadline for adopting WHO-standard good manufacturing practices for drug manufacturers. Companies with a turnover of over Rs 250 crore will have to implement the revised GMP within six months, while medium and small-scale enterprises with turnover of less than Rs 250 crore will have to implement it within a year.
Besides all important patient safety, there are, at least, three other important factors for manufacturing high quality drugs for all and on an ongoing basis, sans lapses, as below:
- Patients’ trust in the healthcare system relies on the availability of reliable medication. When patients have confidence in the drugs they are prescribed, they are more likely to comply with treatment regimens, leading to better health outcomes.
- A strong pharmaceutical sector that focuses on safe and effective drugs can foster economic growth by generating revenue, creating jobs, and attracting investments. It can also stimulate research and development efforts.
- A reputation for producing quality drugs can boost India’s position as a global leader in pharmaceuticals, attracting international collaborations and partnerships.
Which is why, from the entire perspective, as above, amid India’s drug quality concerns, I reckon, one may still tend to wonder now – Is a light in sight now at the end of the dark and long tunnel?
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.