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Collaboration key to pharma’s bright future

The pandemic forced Indian pharma companies to come together and work as a team in the hour of crisis. The trend, experts suggest, will continue for solving long-term issues such as innovation, R&D and digitisation. The

The pandemic forced Indian pharma companies to come together and work as a team in the hour of crisis. The trend, experts suggest, will continue for solving long-term issues such as innovation, R&D and digitisation.

The pandemic has brought forth many learnings for the pharmaceutical industry. While in the future, some things may get back to normal and some may change for the better, it’s evident that equitable access, sharing best practices and collaboration is the way forward. At the Accenture-ET Pharmaceuticals Leadership Dialogue, top industry leaders shared their learnings from the past one year and what they expect the future to be. The discussion was moderated by Alokesh Bhattacharyya, Senior Editor, ET.

Lauding the efforts of the industry as a whole during the pandemic, Vivek V. Kamath, Managing Director & General Manager, Specialty Care, Pharmaceuticals, Abbott India, underlined the importance of collective effort. “The sector showed immense agility, speed and competitive collaboration in these tough times. Healthcare organisations of diverse backgrounds came together with a single purpose — that people have access to medicines, services and diagnostics to lead healthier lives.”

One big shift for pharma companies was embracing digital at a break-neck speed. Companies across the value chain switched to digital roadmaps in a short span of time. But it wasn’t only companies that made the shift. “Doctors, too, embraced platforms for continuous medical aid and attended webinars to make themselves more skilled in their areas of expertise. While they are willing to spend time on digital modes for their patients, patients also are becoming more aware,” said Ramesh Swaminathan, Executive Director, Global CFO and Head Corporate Affairs, Lupin.

While collaboration, digitisation and partnerships provided a huge boost to the pharma industry, the shortage of critical drugs such as Remdesivir and Amphotericin B during the second wave in April and May was an eye opener. “The shortage of drugs was a key learning in how we can be prepared for the third wave. The partnerships ultimately played out in a way that people could buy the medicines and governments would not think twice before buying. Things that used to take months, got done in weeks,” said Deepak Sapra, CEO, API & Services, Dr. Reddy’s.

But can this speed and agility be sustained? May be. The last mile reach of medicines has increased as has digital solutions but a lot more needs to be done. Venugopal Vijayendran, President India Business, Intas Pharma explained, “The digital route has not been experimented with well enough. In the first six months, we found a lot of interest being generated but ultimately 1,000-2,000 connects were leading to the same doctor, who started getting fed up. There is a mental impact on the residual population of not having a one-on-one interface.”


Few trends, however, are here to stay. Digital interactions among patients and doctors and coaliations being some of them. “I have never seen the government and the industry working so closely. The respect for the work of different stakeholders of the industry has gone up. There has never been such focus on talent,” said Vikas Gupta, India Business Head, Cipla.

During the pandemic, the firms that did well had embraced good governance, which meant being on top of technology and innovation, having the right capital allocation policies, and some favourable tailwinds from the government. Apart from technology, innovation would be key in the future, the panel suggested. “Collaboration with academia has been the hallmark of success in several countries and we should encourage that. These steps cou ld be important for long-term sustenance. While India has done well in generics and ‘copycat’ industries, we are far behind in innovative medicine,” said Swaminathan of Lupin.

So, what is the way forward? “Forming alliances,” said Rishabh Bindlish, Managing Director, India Life Sciences and Global Generics Lead, Accenture and added, “Companies are coming together formally to form an alliance. Seventeen Indian generics companies have come together to invest in a new age technology and create better visibility and transparency in the route to market. That’s rare.” But while there is a huge opportunity to invest in technology, create transparency and unlock value, it’s important for companies to collaborate on the backend.


Focus on healthcare means more R&D and more spending from public and private sides. “A mechanism to create a financial structuring for capex in pharma would be helpful and it could mean collaborating with an entirely different industry. This would help in getting large-scale factories that could allow us to compete with producers in China,” Sapra said.


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