India Pharma Exports Surging Despite Cough Syrup Deaths: Trade Body

NEW DELHI : India’s pharmaceutical exports this fiscal year are set to grow nearly twice as fast as last year to hit sales of $27 billion, driven by strong U.S. buying, a government-backed trade body told Reuters, despite deaths linked to Indian-made cough syrups.

The robust forecast comes against the backdrop of earlier concerns from the government that last year’s deaths of dozens of children in Gambia, which the World Health Organization (WHO) linked to drugs made in India, had “adversely impacted the image of India’s pharmaceutical products across the globe”.

Two other cough syrups made in India killed 19 children in Uzbekistan around December, according to the Uzbekistan government.

India is the world’s third largest maker of drugs by volume after the United States and China, and senior pharma trade official Udaya Bhaskar said the country was too big a player for buyers to move away because of “these aberrations” in Gambia and Uzbekistan.

“As far as the Gambia and Uzbekistan incidents are concerned, if you see in terms of the image of the country, there is a dent,” Bhaskar, director general of the Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council of India (Pharmexcil), told Reuters on Tuesday.

“But if you see our (April-June) exports, they have grown. We are doing very well in the U.S. market, we are growing at more than 10% there. In the past four-five months, the growth in exports shows that people have not taken very, very seriously (any concerns about) the quality of Indian pharmaceuticals.”

India’s pharma exports rose 3.25% in the year to March 31 to $25.4 billion and Bhaskar said it was set to grow by about 6.3% to $27 billion this fiscal year.

Sales to the United States, India’s biggest market with 30% of its overall pharma sales, rose 6.2% to $7.5 billion last fiscal year, government data shows.

India’s overall pharma exports in the April-June quarter rose 5% to $6.58 billion.

India is seeing good overall demand for drugs for central nervous system conditions, cardiovascular and oncology, Bhaskar said.

Pharmexcil delegations have visited countries including Nigeria, Egypt and Russia in recent months to allay any concerns about Indian drugs, he said.

“Wherever we are going, people are asking and we are clarifying,” Bhaskar said. “We are telling them our stand. We are trying our level best.”

India has denied links to the deaths in Gambia but found another company guilty of sending adulterated products to Uzbekistan and cancelled its licence. The company, Marion Biotech, has denied wrongdoing.

Gambia has made it mandatory for all Indian drugs to be tested before being exported to the African country since July 1. India has since June 1 made it compulsory for all cough syrups to be tested before export.

But India’s cough syrup exports, including those made by drugmakers that follow the traditional Indian method of Ayurveda, are only about $15 million a year and exports have largely remained intact, Bhaskar said.

Apart from Gambia, no other country has asked for additional tests for Indian drugs since the deaths, he said.

“Whatever exports we are doing to countries like the U.S., our largest importer, they are not asking. There are so many countries we are exporting to, the UK, South Africa, Brazil or any other market. They are not asking.”

Manufacturing a drug in Europe or the United States costs more than 30% than in India, giving India a big advantage, he said.

“India is known for producing quality drugs at an affordable price,” he said. “That is the major advantage for India and we are enjoying that for the last 15-20 years.”

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