The second wave of the pandemic and mutating variants of the virus has left both healthcare provider and Pharma companies contemplating on the appropriate drug therapies that needs to be tested and recommended. Amid this uncertainty the never say never spirit of the industry is quite noteworthy. However, that won’t be enough to fight this battle. Well, the good part is that each stakeholder is playing its part. While healthcare provider, government and scientists continue to experiment and find solutions, the Pharma sector is determined to find effective drug therapies.

In an exclusive conversation, Prashant Nagre, CEO, Fermenta Biotech gives a clear picture on how his company is working towards finding a solution and how the Pharma industry is striving hard admin the second wave.

With the surge in COVID cases, India has been witnessing a shortage of drugs. How can the industry fix this demand-supply gap ?

With the recent shortages faced by the industry and in turn end consumers, the need for self-reliance has increasingly become clear. Make in India schemes such as the bulk drugs parks are expected to incentivise local manufacturing, and the pharmaceutical industry can take advantage of these schemes to boost capacities that will be a win-win strategy in the long term to achieve economies of scale. Additionally, companies must revisit their approach towards value chains to increase control and transform the supply chains into agile versions.

Apart from this, can collaborative models work?

The volatility in global supply chains has exposed the need-gap of the Indian pharmaceutical industry, which is heavily dependent on imports of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs), intermediates and Key Starting Materials (KSMs). Indigenous manufacturing through collaborative efforts by the industry to improve their capacities along with policy support from the government through its Production Linked Incentives schemes, will push companies to manufacture cost-effectively in order to be competitive globally.

At Fermenta, we have inculcated the spirit of self-reliance into our strategy, and recently initiated manufacturing of cholesterol, the key starting material for production of Vitamin D. This backward integration has propelled us into a niche category of sustainable suppliers of Vitamin D globally.

Which are some of the drugs in the pipeline or waiting for DCGI approval that can bring some respite in the fight against COVID?

A molecule that has the potential to change the course of the pandemic is Molnupiravir, an investigational anti-viral drug currently undergoing Phase II clinical trials for testing its safety and efficacy in COVID-19 patients, with early results showing much promise.

Fermenta has developed patented enzymatic synthesis technology for manufacturing Molnupiravir, by utilising our proprietary enzyme platform. This novel method is scalable, sustainable and efficient, and we are looking out for engaging with industries and other agencies to be able to contribute in the best manner possible for making this product widely available, subject to clinical trials and approvals.

What does the second wave mean to pharma companies in India?

The criticality of the products and services the pharma industry, or healthcare segment overall, provides, has been underlined in these times. 

COVID-19 is here to stay and is expected to change gears from a pandemic to an endemic infection.The biggest factor that would drive its circulation is compromised immunity, therefore it is imperative to bring in immuno-nutrition as a strategy for preventing the infection from exploding again. Vitamins C and D, along with Zinc have been proven to play a key role in immune support and reducing the risk of infection. 

The industry needs to evolve itself with this need to build preparedness in terms of maintaining the health of the population, and to its existing portfolio of ‘wartime weapons’ of acute and chronic drugs add on ‘peacetime weapons’ of preventive health measures such as nutraceuticals. 

What are the new challenges that companies are now facing?

Like other industries, the pharma sector has not been spared from the effects of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Global supply chains have been adversely affected, with logistical impact causing stock outs, transportation issues and delay in deliveries of raw materials. Many companies have also faced human capital impact with their workforce being affected by the virus. While operational resilience has been the way forward, it is possible that across sectors and countries, balance sheets may have taken a hit.

On the market side, the pandemic has resulted in an increased demand for both acute and chronic therapeutic drugs i.e. anti-infectives as well as lifestyle disease treatments respectively. In light of the above internal and external challenges, companies must figure out ways and means to synthesise their products in a cost-effective manner. The solution lies in technologies such as green chemistry, that enables sustainable and efficient production by utilising enzyme platforms which have the potential to improve both yield and output quality. To cater to this requirement, Fermenta’s integrated biotechnology portfolio consists of enzyme solutions for antibiotics synthesis as well as applications in the fine chemicals industry.

Will this wave nip India’s recovery in the bud?

With European nations and the US also experiencing second, and in some cases, third waves, the re-emergence of COVID-19 in India is not surprising. However, the mutated strain of the virus is a cause for concern. Even so, a positive difference is made by the initiation of vaccination which is expected to alleviate the severity of infections. To reiterate the importance of immunity during such times, health maintenance and disease prevention go hand in hand, and measures to support each individual’s immunity will have a snowball effect in keeping the entire population free of infection.

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