The pandemic is a chance to revamp India’s pharmaceutical industry

NOTHING IN YUSUF HAMIED’S 60 years at Cipla, an Indian drugmaker where he is chairman, prepared him for covid-19. Production at its 30 plants fell by 70% nearly overnight in March as India’s government ordered a lockdown that made it hard for its 23,000 employees to work. Critical inputs, from packaging to active ingredients, became scarce. The price of some sourced from China shot up five-fold.

A month on things are looking up. Cipla’s output is still half its pre-crisis levels; operations in hard-hit Mumbai remain curtailed. But a factory in the north-eastern state of Sikkim is fully staffed. The firm ferries employees to work in sanitised (and uncrowded) buses. Basic supplies are available again, and the premium charged by Chinese sellers has narrowed to 10-20%.

That is good news—and not just for Mr Hamied’s firm, or indeed his country, which has largely avoided drug shortages thanks to Cipla and its fellow pharma firms. The world relies on their health. Their revenues amounted to $40bn in 2019, half of it from exports. They produce one-tenth of all pharmaceuticals by volume, including 50% of the world’s vaccines, 40% of generics sold in America and a quarter of all medicine bought in Britain. Visitors from Africa leave India with suitcases stuffed with cheap pills.

Indian pharma was not in great shape going...



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