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MSMEs contribution to Indian pharma significant

Nandita Vijay
Thursday, November 7, 2019, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

119221SunilAttavar Indian pharma has not just proved its capability in India but internationally too. In the current scenario, technology is envisaged as the game-changer as it brings in transparency and efficiency across manufacture and the regulatory landscape. In Karnataka, the pharma industry has indicated a robust manufacturing and research capability in the big business of outsourcing for leading Indian and multinational companies. In the midst of consistent performance of big pharma giants, it is also the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) which have been the key driver of growth to indicate that the huge cost advantage to manufacture high quality products, Sunil Attavar, president of Karnataka Drugs and Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association and managing director, Group Pharma, tells Nandita Vijay. Excerpts:
What are the key contributions and strengths of India and Karnataka pharma that you can pinpoint?
Indian pharmaceutical industry’s key contribution and strength is that it can provide quality medicines at affordable prices. This is possible with its robust manufacturing processes and quality management system (QMS) to manufacture, high-quality generic medicines. The accessibility of our medicines is reflected in India’s life expectancy which was at 40 in 1960 as now is crossed 61 years.
Our industry has not just contributed in India alone, but internationally too. For instance, the AIDA programme in Africa and the global vaccine programme especially for the WHO Indian pharma supplied high quality drugs at much lower costs. The industry has continuously contributed to Government programmes spanning from anaemia control, cholera eradication, polio drops to TB. In addition, this industry has chipped in support with appropriate medicines during natural calamities where its timely intervention prevented large scale epidemic outbreaks.
Coming to the Karnataka pharma, we have been for long known as the destination for the quality outsourcing. The over 300 companies have built a reputation for high-quality and timeline deliveries of supplies. Most of the large Indian and multinational companies outsource from Karnataka and it also accounts for the production of the top 10 brands in India. This is mainly attributed to the robust regulatory department that calls for strict implementation of systems. Moreover, Karnataka is home to a large base of pharmacy colleges which ensures easy access to qualified human resources.
What does India and Karnataka pharma lack to give that booster shot to its growth in terms of infrastructure, technology and manpower?

If India has to sustain its current growth levels and also continue to grow to meet the increase in demands of the Indian population and also maintain its place in the global pharma space, it will need to get its infrastructure right. Currently, serious concerns are on its roads, unpredictable supply of power and water. These impact the ensuing high labour and production costs. Now these issues have lingered on for years and will be serious constraints if it is not set right in a time bound manner. India is competing with China, Bangladesh, and Eastern Europe where infrastructure is light-years ahead. If we are not able to leverage our efforts of the last 40 years because of infrastructure shortcomings, Indian pharma can lose out on promising growth opportunities.  The country needs to introspect on progress of Bangladesh and China which created an eco-system to put in the best technology practices. In order to get more competitive, India must adopt cluster-based model to economise production cost, enable good environment management practices and control logistic expenses.  
There is need for a collective effort between government academia and industry for research and development. We are still dependent on global innovation products for which we need to wait for patent expiries before the industry can look at reverse engineering. The government should immediately go in for some big-ticket investments into research and development as there hardly any work on this front which would hit us in the next 2 or 3 decades if we do not embark now.
Union budget 2019 has given much focus to Artificial Intelligence (AI) apart from its attention to the Ayushman Bharat. How much of all this would India and Karnataka pharma be able to maximise to garner higher performance?
No doubt, AI, Machine Learning and 5G will radically change the way things are done especially in the manufacturing and analytical sector. Indian pharma is behind in adopting these technologies and hence we need to catch up fast to leverage its benefits.

Of course, Karnataka and Bengaluru especially are in an envious its position because of a lot of the backend programming and development work for AI or for machine learning is happening here. There is an immediate need to implement these technologies in pharma manufacturing, logistics which will in-turn support healthcare schemes like Ayushman Bharat where Big Data analytics is much desired.

Ayushman Bharat when reaches its full potential will be a game-changer. The scheme which is envisaged to cover 30% of the population is a big number and pharma industries can leverage. Moreover Ayushman Bharat will help comprehend disease patterns which will indicate what is required. It is here technology will be an enabler to bring the science of pharmaceuticals along with big data AI and Machine learning to be able to provide affordable medicines to all.
MSMEs are the lifeline of Indian pharma industry going by the contract and job works done by this sector apart from local manufacture for domestic market. In your opinion what needs to be done for companies in this space to graduate further?
No doubt, the MSME sector has been key driver in the growth. Especially in Karnataka, it is the backbone of pharma production as it has capitalised the cost advantage to manufacture high quality products not only for other large Indian companies but also leading multinationals. On the marketing side they have been able to reach out to every small nook and corner to make medicines available to all.

Going forward, MSMEs sectors should not look merely seeking government instead must scout for collaborations to grow. The sector needs to leverage its best practices and collectively participate for global opportunities and meet the quality management systems and regulatory expectations. It needs to focus on research and development of complex generics and it is here collaborations and joint ventures will play an effective role to succeed.

There is also a pressing need to tread the digital pathway hold on to social media for  market penetration. These are new tools to control capital costs that will lead to faster decision making.
As the President of KDPMA till 2021, what are the likely trends that you foresee in the pharma sector?
KDPMA will continue to improve the level of competency and compliance of the industries that come under its umbrella. Especially for the MSMEs there will be dedicated technical programmes. Its partnership with LSSSDC (Life Sciences Sector Skill Development Council) to further access to qualified and trained industry ready workforce. It will engage with the Karnataka government to to bring Pharma Parks. The process of forming a SPV (special purpose vehicle) is underway. We are keen to bring in international delegations and showcase Karnataka as an ideal hub for contract outsourcing and research. Another would be to ink academia-industry partnerships to spur faster commercialisation.
We do sight two imminent challenges. One is regulatory which is definitely getting strict to be aligned to global practices. The industry needs to gear up and utilise this growth opportunity.
The other challenge is going to be technology and how it is going to impact the pharmaceutical sector. With some path breaking changes at our doorstep like 5G, machine learning etc. We need to be prepared. Being in the heart of IT ecosystem, we will need to connect with these companies to see how we can leverage these changes and not be left behind.

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Ramesh Maniyar Apr 7, 2021 1:15 PM
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Vivek Hattangadi Nov 15, 2019 12:21 PM
An excellent interview!

Gained a lot of insights from Mr Sunil Attavar's views on AI and machine learning.

But importantly, looking at the strictures Pharma India gets from the US-FDA - especially data integrity, a lot of work needs to be done in this field.

How should Pharma India address this?
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