Pharma majors bulk up Covid portfolio

Rutam Vora | Updated on May 30, 2021

Covid management: Efforts are on to bring more products to market   -  ISTOCK.COM

Test kits, antibody cocktails and vaccines are among the ammo being sourced and supplied in the war against the pandemic

In May last year, Zydus Cadila, along with the Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology (Pune), had revealed India’s first indigenously developed IgG antibody detection test kit — the Covid Kavach Elisa. It was still early days in the pandemic and the homegrown testing kit was among the first for Covid-19.

In 12 months, Zydus’s Covid portfolio has bulked up with over a dozen products for the treatment and management of Covid-19, apart from a soon-to-come vaccine, ZyCoV-D. The aim has been to look at different stages of the infection and specific interventions, says Sharvil Patel, Managing Director, Zydus Cadila, adding that they will continue to look for novel approaches to address the pandemic.

Feeding the market

Zydus is among the early and largest developers of Covid-19 products, but other large drugmakers too are aggressively developing themselves or entering into alliances to feed the Indian market with Covid-19 products.

Cipla, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories (DRL) and Sun Pharmaceutical, for instance, and even the late entrant Lupin. Cipla’s basket of products expanded from three drugs for Covid-19 management in August 2020 to nearly a dozen till date (including diagnostic kits) through partnerships with Merck Sharp & Dohme for molnupiravir, Roche for tocilizumab and the more recent antibody cocktail, and Eli Lilly for baricitinib.

Cipla chief Umang Vohra had recently said that they were working on the logistics to ensure availability of these products in the coming days. The company is witnessing strong demand for these products and this is expected to reflect in its financial performance in the next three months.

In fact, Vohra had told BusinessLinein February that they were in talks to bring products from top vaccine-makers into India.

Vinod Nair, research head at Geojit Financial Services, explains how the Covid portfolio is contributing to the financial health of the manufacturers. “In India, new launches like virafin, baricitinib and remdesivir are high-margin complex molecules that will add to revenue and profit growth. However, revenue from the Covid portfolio in the US and European regions may see a decline as the pandemic situation continues to ease in those geographies,” he said.

Costs with benefits

Nair observes that the pharma industry has a “stable and improving” balance sheet and there were no signs of an “increase (in) debt to forecast financial stress”. Besides, he adds, the benefits of such expenditure are in the long term (though in a diminishing trend) and built into the product pricing. It was unlikely to cause an imbalance in the industry, he said.

Another Indian drug major, DRL has five key drugs for Covid management, including the innovative oral anti-viral drug 2-deoxy-D-glucose (2-DG) that was developed in partnership with a DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) lab. The drug for moderate to severe Covid-19 was launched recently. But the booster in DRL’s armour in the fight against SARS-CoV-2 is its high-profile alliance to bring Russian vaccine Sputnik-V into India.

Erez Israeli, DRL Chief Executive Officer, recently said, “Our Covid portfolio is getting more and more robust as time goes by”, referring to the multiple collaborations to develop and commercialise a wide range of preventive and curative options for Covid treatment.

Sun Pharma has further added competitive fuel to this space with enhanced production for Covid-19 management products including ivermectin (antiviral), azithromycin (antibiotic) and the once popular hydroxychloroquine, besides production or distribution of remdesivir and itolizumab in India for Syngene (Biocon). It was one of the late entrants in making favipiravir, a product that has several companies making it, including Glenmark and Hetero.

As more companies enter the fray and existing ones add to the arsenal of Covid-19 management products, it will make a meaningful difference to patients only if these are easily available and affordable for a large population.

Published on May 30, 2021

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