Covid-19: Indian pharma companies want government to airlift APIs from China

Mumbai: Indian pharma companies have asked the government to airlift from China key active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) required to make hydroxychloroquine — one of the drugs recommended to treat severe Covid-19 patients and frontline healthcare workers.

IPCA Labs, Zydus Takeda, Mangalam Drugs & Organics and Wallace Pharma are among the manufacturers of this drug that are staring at fluctuating freight rates, a jump in prices of bulk drugs from Chinese suppliers and an erratic supply chain with cancelled or reduced frequency of cargo flights.

Some companies said the price of the bulk drug has shot up almost three-fold to Rs 20,000 per kg from Rs 7,000 per kg in February.

“We are cautiously buying the raw materials. This is a loss-making proposition for us,” an executive of a pharma company said, asking not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

The government has told pharma companies that it would take over their manufacturing plants if they stop producing these drugs at this crucial time.

“We have already requested senior government officials to help us secure the raw material hydroxychloroquine sulphate locally or negotiate a reasonable price on a government-to-government basis for Indian companies. We have already readied two of our plants to produce this much-needed product,” Vinay Pinto, MD of Wallace Pharma, told ET.

Freight operators told ET they face daily rate fluctuations and last-minute flight cancellations, which lead to backlogs. Freight costs have jumped four-fold to ₹40 per kg and there is no guarantee that consignments will land as scheduled.

“We are getting frantic calls from our pharma customers for their delayed cargo, but we really can’t help as there are last-minute cancellations,” said a freight company executive. Several state-run hospitals have placed orders for over 100 million hydroxychloroquine tablets, which drug companies say are pending as outstanding orders. This drug is also used by patients suffering from lupus, an autoimmune disease, and is reported to be in shortage in pharmacies.


Hydroxychloroquine has been recommended by several countries, including the US, with limited dosage for Covid-19 patients and as a preventive for high-risk individuals like healthcare workers.

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