China Shortfall Hits Indian Generics Exports

Restrictions could pressure analgesics, antibiotics

06.03.2020 -

India, the world's largest supplier of generic medicines, has restricted exports of 26 active ingredients and the drugs made from them due to the corona virus outbreak. The news has sparked fears of shortages, although estimates of how severe the shortage could be vary widely.

The latest restrictions, which reports said have affected in particular acetaminophen, the base ingredient for the analgesic paracetamol, are attributed to short supply from China, where many production facilities have shut down or cut output.

While the Indian government said it had enough stocks to last for up to three months, some US commentators forecast a pronounced shortfall if Chinese plants were still down at the end of spring.

On the list of restricted products, believed to account for 10% of all Indian pharmaceutical exports, are several antibiotics, such as tinidazole and erythromycin, the hormone progesterone and Vitamin B12.

India's drugmakers rely on China for almost 70% of the active ingredients in their medicines, according to statistics quoted by BBC World News. The longer the epidemic continues, the tighter the market could grow, industry watchers have warned.

"Even drugs that aren't produced in China get their base ingredients from China. Globally there could be a shortage if China and India both get hit," analysts from the China Market Research Group told the news service, while Oxford Economics' lead economist Stephen Foreman said it appears that the scarcity of ingredients is already forcing up prices.

Prices of active ingredients needed to make manufacture statins, used to control cholesterol levels, have risen 40% or more for some drugmakers, according to Bernstein Research.

In the US, health regulator Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned this week that the coronavirus epidemic has already resulted in a shortage of a widely sold drug that it did not identify. The FDA said, however, that alternatives for the drug were available.

According to FDA figures, Indian imports altogether account for almost a quarter of US medicines and more than 30% of active ingredients. Addressing the Senate on Mar. 4, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said the agency is working to determine how the restrictions will affect America's medical supply and its effect on essential medicines.

Major US pharmaceutical companies have said they are monitoring their supply chains, but due to the complexity of the now global drug supply chains, not even major manufacturers can always trace the ultimate origin of all the raw materials they use, the US newspaper Wall Street Journal (WSJ) noted.

WSJ points to antibiotics supply as particularly worrying for the US. China is regarded as the largest exporter of basic antibiotic chemicals by far, with shipments worth $3.4 billion in 2018, the newspaper said, quoting United Nations data. India was the largest importer that year, buying supplies worth $1.4 billion