FDA ‘Import Bans’: Valuing Drug Supply Chain Security for Patients’ Safety

To strengthen patients’ health and safety requirements, there is a growing need to first work out and then maintain a robust Drug Supply Chain Security (DSCS) mechanism by the pharmaceutical product manufacturers located anywhere in the world.

It is, therefore, often believed that the broader objective of cGMP encompasses DSCS for the same reason.

Over a period of time DSCS has assumed enormous complexity, as it often extends beyond the geographical territory of a country, spanning across a large number of vendors and vendors’ vendors of different kinds.

A robust DSCS, besides many others, would be able to address effectively, including sourcing of finished goods from third party manufacturers, the following:

  • Health and safety concerns of patients
  • Fraudulent activities leading to drug counterfeiting
  • Stringent global regulatory scrutiny
  • Check on sourcing of unapproved or substandard material

Most common threats to DSCS:

Counterfeit goods are most common threats to DSCS mechanism of any company. According to a report of the World Health Organization (WHO) on the types of counterfeits and their magnitude, such products can be grouped into six categories:

  • Products without active ingredients: 32.1 percent
  • Products with incorrect quantities of active ingredients: 20 percent
  • Products with wrong ingredients: 21.4 percent
  • Products with correct quantities of active ingredients but with fake packaging: 15.6 percent
  • Copies of an original product: 1 percent
  • Products with high levels of impurities and contaminants: 8.5 percent.

Globalization enhances the need of DSCS:

In today’s globalized business environment, the dual need to reducing costs significantly and in tandem minimizing the risks associated with the procurement activities of the business, have compelled many pharma companies to extend their ‘Supply Chain’ related activities spreading across different parts of the globe, instead of just confining to the local space.

At the same time, a new trend is evolving with the emergence of world class outsourcing service providers in the Contract Research And Manufacturing Services (CRAMS) space, especially from the countries like India and China.

Though cost arbitrage both in India and China is a key-motivating factor, the outsourcing services encompass integrated value propositions of high order for the overseas customers, such as, desired quality including cGMP, speed in delivery process and suppliers’ integrity together with overall reliability of end products and services. Nothing in this value chain is mutually exclusive and would be left to chance. More importantly, DSCS  also must go through a set of complex algorithms striking a right balance between all agreed parameters.

Examples of serious DSCS security violations:

Following are a few at random examples of serious DSCS violations globally, at various times in the past:

  • In 1982, seven people in the Chicago area died after ingesting Extra-Strength Tylenol laced with potassium cyanide.
  • In 2007, over 300 people died in Panama of Central America after consuming a cough medication containing diethylene glycol, which was labeled as glycerin. The adulterant diethylene glycol was sourced from China and was relabeled as glycerin by a middleman in Spain, as reported by the media.
  • In March 2008, prompted by around 81 drug related deaths in the United States, the US-FDA announced a large scale recall of Heparin injection, a well-known blood thinner from Baxter Healthcare, suspecting contamination of a raw material sourced from China. Standard technology used by Baxter could not detect the contaminant, which the regulator considered as a deliberate adulteration. The contaminant was eventually identified as an over sulfated derivative of chondroitin sulfate, which costs a fraction of original heparin derivative.

The ‘Heparin tragedy’ raised, possibly for the first time, the need of working out an algorithm to put in place a robust system for DSCS, as stated above. This need has now become more critical as many pharmaceutical players, including those in India, are increasingly outsourcing the API, other ingredients and almost entire logistics from third parties.

The front-runner:

USFDA is globally recognized as the most efficient in this area having a sharp focus on patients’ health and safety interest. However, even a front-runner like this has some manpower related issues to make its global vigilance system almost watertight.  due to In this context, ‘The New York Times’ dated August 15, 2011 reported, despite the fact that US now imports more than 80 percent of APIs and 40 percent of finished drugs mainly from India, China and elsewhere, the agency conducts far fewer foreign inspections as compared to domestic inspections.

The US FDA Commissioner was quoted saying, “Supply chains for many generic drugs often contain dozens of middlemen and are highly susceptible to being infiltrated by falsified drugs.”

In another conference the FDA Commissioner said, “I think people have no idea in this country and around the world about the vulnerability of things that we count on every day and that we have a system that has big gaps in our protective mechanisms.”

Import bans of Indian drugs are related to DSCS:

In India, all may not be fully aware of intense health and safety concerns, as stated above, of the US drug regulator, when reports of repeated ‘import bans’ shake the domestic industry hard. Many even would painstakingly try to invent ‘other reasons’ behind such shameful ‘bans’, which are totally prompted by breach in DSCS going against patients’ interest of the importing country.

Stringent regulatory inspections of Indian manufacturing plants by the US-FDA and UK-MHRA, as reported by the media with great concerns are, therefore, for the same reasons.

The latest in this saga is the Toansa manufacturing facility of Ranbaxy, where USFDA reportedly detected, among others, presence of flies in sample storage room, un-calibrated instruments in its laboratory and non-adherence to sample analysis procedure, prompting yet another ‘import ban’ of drugs made at this facility by the drug regulator of the United States.

Is DSCS in place for all drugs manufactured and consumed in India?

The question therefore floats at the top mind, if for breach of DSCS the drugs manufactured in all those Indian pharma plants, that have faced ‘import bans’ from the US and UK, are unsafe for patients in those countries, how come the medicines manufactured in the same plants for domestic consumption are accepted as safe for the patients in India by the DCGI?

However, the good news is that the DCGI has, at last, taken cognizance of the unfortunate regulatory developments in India and is reportedly planning to initiate a system of sudden inspections of manufacturing facilities of all pharmaceutical players, both domestic and MNCs and would take stringent action against any non-compliance to standards. Let us hope that this is not just a knee-jerk reaction of the Indian drug regulator coming under intense pressure from all corners, the good intent would get translated into reality sooner.

Brinkmanship has failed:

That said, even after witnessing how clumsily the concerned Indian pharma players had prepared themselves for inspections by the overseas drug regulators, many other manufacturers still today continue to take the priority need of DSCS of the importing countries for granted  up until critical situations arise, such as, drug import ban orders by the overseas regulators. The mindset of ‘managing things on the stage’ has not worked. The brinkmanship has miserably failed, repeatedly in so many occasions.

Interestingly, global pharma majors, by and large, have recognized this area as a center piece of their procurement and manufacturing operations and are continuously honing their skills in this domain to avoid any unpleasant surprises on product quality and safety issues leading to loss in business, besides of course quantum damage in reputation and goodwill of the affected companies.


Strategic prioritization to maintain DSCS is a relatively a new focus area, which prompts the need to continuously nurturing material suppliers of high reliability and simultaneously explore possibilities of application of newer technologies primarily to avoid any breach in the entire supply chain, right from procurement, manufacturing to end products logistics support.

The process of ensuring a robust DSCS would undoubtedly add to overall cost of operation, especially when the industry is facing a growth challenge in the large developed markets of the world with much higher profit potential.

However, not mitigating the risk of breach in DSCS, could invite a nightmare of unsustainability in the business operations at any given point of time, as has been happening with some pharma majors in India, such as, Ranbaxy and Wockhardt.

Thus, weighing pros and cons, even if this integrated process adds to the cost of business, the option of not going for DSCS system would be foolhardy. At the same time, other operational measures like, improving order fill rate, more efficient inventory management and better buying, could help negating the adverse cost impact significantly.

That said, the bottom-line is: FDA ‘import bans’ are critical manifestations of not valuing, adequately enough,the DSCS for health and safety of patients, not just of the US and UK, but of our homeland too.

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.



Pharma Horizon: Cloud, Rainbow And Smear

Some recent papers contemplated that the patent cliff for blockbuster drugs has already reached the zenith and early signs of recovery should be visible from 2013 onwards. However, from analysis of the currently available data, contrary to the above belief, I reckon, the downtrend in global pharma is far from over, not just yet.

One of the telltale signs of this slump is near-term patent expiry of today’s blockbuster drugs, the impact of which will continue to keep the global pharma sky overcast with clouds for some more time, especially in absence of replaceable equivalents. Interestingly, on the flip side, a beautiful rainbow, as it were, also takes shape in the horizon, ushering-in a hope to a large number of patients for improved access to newer drugs, just as it does to the generic players for accelerating business growth.

That’s the good part of it, though for the generic drug industry. However, the bad part of the emerging scenario gives rise to a lurking fear of gloom and doom, emanating from self-created evitable smears and taints, blended in vessels of despicable mindsets.


While having a glimpse at that following table, the underlying impact of the dark clouds looming large on the global pharma horizon cannot just be wished away:

Total Patent Expiry:

Year Value US$ Billion
2015 66
2014 34
2013 28
2012 55
Total 183 

(Compiled from FiercePharma data)

Thus, the negative impact from sales lost to patent expiry of blockbuster drugs of today, though declined from US$ 55 billion in 2012 to US$ 28 billion in 2013, the same would start climbing-up again to US$ 66 billion in 2015.

If we take a look at the product-wise details, the picture pans out as under:

Top 10 ‘Patent Expiry’ in 2014:

No. Brand Company Disease Sales 2012   US$ Million Expiry
1. Copaxone Teva MultipleSclerosis 3996 May 2014
2. Nexium AstraZeneca Acid peptic 3994 May 2014
3. Micardis/HCT BoehringerIngelheim Hypertension 2217 Jan 2014
4. Sandostatin LAR Novartis Cancer 1512 June 2014
5. Exforge/HCT Novartis Hypertension 1352 Oct 2014
6. Nasonex Merck Resp. Allergy 1268 Jan 2014
7. Trilipix Abbvie Anti-lipid 1098 Jan 2014
8. Evista Eli Lilly Osteoporosis 1010 Mar 2014
9. Renagel Sanofi Chronic Kidney Disease  861 Sep. 2014
10. Restasis Allergan Chronic Dry Eye  792 May 2014

(Compiled from FiercePharma data)

The above figures, therefore, do reinforce the hypothesis that the following factors would continue to make the best brains of global pharma burning the midnight oil in search of sustainable strategic blueprints, at least, for some more time:

-       Mostly, high growth emerging markets of the world are generic drugs driven

-       Increasing cost containment pressure of Governments and/or other payor

-       Challenges from Intellectual Property (IP) and Market Access related  issues

-       Declining R&D productivity

-       Shift in overall focus for new drugs on expensive biologics

-       Markets turning more Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA)

Current strategy to deliver shareholder-value not sustainable:

Since last several years, one has witnessed, despite slowing down of sales growth, big pharma players, by and large, have not failed in delivering impressive shareholder returns. This has been possible mainly due to ruthless cost cutting across the board, restructuring of operational framework and taking measures like, increase in dividends and share repurchases.

These strategic measures, though laudable to keep the head above water, are just not sustainable over a period of time sans strong cashflow.

Thus, for a long haul, robust and consistent business growth with commensurate impact on the bottom-line generating smooth cashflow, is imperative for all these companies.

In this difficult ball game of developing sustainable cutting-edge strategies at an equally challenging time, the consolidation process within the industry would gain further momentum, where only the fittest corporations, led by great corporate brains, would manage to survive and thrive.

However, who all would successfully be able to squarely face the moments of truth, triumphantly seizing the opportunities frozen in time, in the fast changing paradigm of a seemingly VUCA world, is not more than a matter of speculation now.

The Rainbow:

As stated above, while this canopy formed with dark clouds keeps looming large at the global pharma horizon, a beautiful rainbow is simultaneously seen taking shape for the domestic Indian drug manufacturers to cash-on with well-orchestrated strategic measures. One of the critical success requirements for this sprint, is touching the tape in the finishing line to become first to introduce generic versions of the patent expired drugs, especially in the US market.

Indian pharma players have already demonstrated in the past that they do have the wherewithal of making such rare opportunities meaningful by offering affordable new drugs of high quality standards to a large number of patients, while simultaneously accelerating growth of their respective business operations.

Proven acumen even in biologics:

India has recently proven its acumen in the area of biologics too, by developing a biosimilar version of the complex biologic drug – Trastuzumab (Herceptin) of Roche, used for the treatment of breast cancer, and that too in a record time.

As is known to many, earlier in 2013 Roche decided not to defend its patents on Herceptin in India, which reportedly recorded local sales of about US$ 21 million in 2012. Many people opined at that time, it would not be easy for any company to develop biosimilar version of Trastuzumab, mainly due to the complexity involved in its clinical development. Hence, some diehards kept arguing, Roche would not be commercially impacted much for taking the above decision, at least in the near to mid term.

Surprising almost everybody, Biocon and its MNC partner Mylan not only developed an affordable biosimilar version of Trastuzumab successfully, but also got its marketing approval from the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI), thereby immensely benefitting a large number of breast cancer patients in India and hopefully even beyond.

Keeping ‘Eye on the ball’?

Details of ANDA status from the USFDA source probably indicate that several Indian players have started gearing up to move in that direction at a brisk pace, keeping their eyes well fixed on the ball.

The following table further indicates that in 2012 India ranked second, after the United States (US) in terms of number of ANDA approvals and in 2013 till October India ranks number one, overtaking the United States (US):

ANDA’s Granted in 2012 and upto October 2013):

Country ANDA 2012 ANDA (October 2013) Total Since 2007
United States 183 119 1191
India 196 138 993
Switzerland 20 12 134
Israel 28 13 133
Canada 27 13 116
Germany 20 6 107
UK 11 15 95
China 7 10 29


Unfortunately, just out side the frame of the above kaleidoscope, one can see large spots of self created slimy smears, which can make the ‘Rainbow’ irrelevant, maintaining the horizon as cloudy even for the Indian generic players.

Continuous reports from US-FDA and UK-MHRA on fraudulent regulatory acts, lying and falsification of drug quality data by some otherwise quite capable Indian players, have just not invited disgrace for the country in this area, but also reportedly prompted regulators from other nations trying to assess whether such bans might suggest issues for drugs manufactured for their respective countries, as well.

Such despicable mindsets of the concerned key players, if remain unleashed, could make Indian Pharma gravitating down, stampeding all hopes of harvesting the incoming opportunities. 

We have one such ready example before us and that too is not an old one. The ‘Import Alert’ of the USFDA against Mohali plant of Ranbaxy, has already caused inordinate delay in the introduction of a cheaper generic version of Diovan, the blockbuster antihypertensive drug of Novartis AG, after it went off patent. It is worth noting that Ranbaxy had the exclusive right to sell a generic version of Diovan from September 21, 2012.

Another report of November 2013 states, “The Drug Controller General of India has ordered Sun Pharmaceutical, the country’s largest drug maker by market capitalization to suspend clinical research activities at its Mumbai based bio-analytical laboratory, a move that could slow down the company’s regulatory filings in India and possibly overseas as well.”

The outcome of such malpractices may go beyond the drug regulatory areas, affecting even the valuations of concerned Indian pharma companies. According to a recent report Strides Arcolab will not get US$ 250 million of the US$ 1.75 billion anticipated from the sale of its injectable drugs unit to Mylan Inc unless regulatory concerns at Agila Specialities in Bangalore are resolved.

Thus the smears though for now are confined to a few large manufacturing units of Indian Pharma, including some located overseas, may eventually play the spoil sport, trashing all hopes seen through the rainbow in the bins of shame.


In the balance of probability, I believe, the clouds of uncertainty would continue to loom large over the global pharma, at least, till 2015.

However, in the midst of it, heralds a ‘never before opportunity’ for Indian pharma to cash on the early fruits of forthcoming patent expiries of today’s blockbuster drugs, not just for them, but for patients at large.

Already demonstrated capabilities of the homegrown players, trigger expectations of making it happen. The encouraging trend of grant of ANDAs in the US further reinforces this belief.

Despite all these, a lurking fear does creep in. This evitable fear finds its root in repeated fraudulent behavior of some Indian drug manufacturers, seriously compromising with cGMP standards of global drug regulators, including lying and falsification of data generated, thus playing a spoil sport by ‘snatching defeat from the jaws of victory’, as it were.

That said, the question to ponder now is: In the ‘Pharma Horizon’ what would ultimately prevail in the short to medium term, especially in the Indian context – Clouds, The Rainbow or Smears?

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.