Earlier in February this year, Novartis, which happens to be a Swiss drug major, sold its three rooted brands to Dr Reddy’s Laboratories in India. If this wasn’t enough, they also went on to terminate 400 employees from positions, sending shockwaves across the industry. In October 2021, Eily Lily, the US drug major, gave the marketing rights of its diabetes drug to Cipla and went ahead by laying off 120 employees from the country. During the same period, even Lundbeck, a pharma company from Denmark called it quits from India as part of its global strategy.
In 2019, because of the falling demand, even Pfizer had gone on to close 2 facilities which manufactured injectables. Companies are selling brands, eliminating non-core units, or terminating staff in India at a time when the local market is taking centre stage in their growth strategy. The listed MNC pharma companies’ stocks have been bland as compared to their Indian counterparts.
A pharma consultant and former EVP with GSK Pharma, Salil Kallianpur, opines that pharmaceutical MNCs do not take India as a favourable market and it can be easily gauged from the fact that their product portfolios aren’t complete, their influx happens to be either in metros or tier 1 cities, and they get easily thwarted by their Indian peers. He adds that the input costs are seeing an increase, but there are price caps as well that need to be looked into as far as certain essential drugs are concerned. All this puts P & L under a lot of strain, leading to lay-offs. Furthermore, Kallianpur says that there is still a long way to go as far as the policy on marketing and distribution of drugs in India is concerned. All this has given rise to MNCs exploring new business models as far as they are concerned, which involve new marketing collabs, outsourcing, contracting, or even out-licensing molecules. According to the data from AWACS, the Indian and MNC breakup in the local pharmaceutical market has been 80:20 for quite some time now.
Ajit Dangi, CEO of Danssen Consulting, says that pharma companies are restructuring their businesses in the country so as to make them more thorough in the marketing environment that is changing. The intellectual property rights landscape in the country is changing for the better, and it is no longer anyone’s cup of tea to copy patented molecules. Dangi also says that one of the major points that should be working in India’s favour is the regulatory approvals of new chemical entities that are already approved by the USFDA, the UK’s MHRA or the EU’s EMA, which are fast tracked now. Notably, more than 328 fixed dose combinations that happen to be irrational have been banned, which has in turn created space for MNCs’ original research molecules to be promoted in a scientific way.
During the pandemic, multinational drug companies were revealed to be working with Indian firms. For example, Gilead leased its remdesivir compounds to seven pharma firms. AstraZeneca’s transfer of COVID vaccine tech to SII, Biological E and J&J, and the voluntary licence from Merck to five Indian pharma companies for molnupiravir, a COVID antiviral pill, are also certain significant examples of partnerships.
Sheetal Sapale, AWACS, marketing president, makes a valid point by stating that MNCs focus on limited therapy options and make bigger brands with legacies like in the time of COVID, GSK, Janssen, Abbott, and Pfizer, who had a good brand presence in gastro, pain, and nutrition, were able to bank upon a top-of-mind recall teamed with a demand surge.