Home/ Industry / Manufacturing/  Vitamin C, other drugs in short supply as China shutters plants

New Delhi: The Indian pharmaceutical industry, which is dependent on China for key intermediates and active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), has started feeling the ripple effects of a recent shutdown of manufacturing units in China over environmental concerns.

Supply disruptions are likely across therapies, according to industry experts, while two people aware of the matter said an unprecedented shortage of vitamin C tablets has already hit the market.

Popular chewable vitamin C tablets Limcee by Abbott Healthcare Pvt. Ltd have been unavailable for the last three months, confirmed Ajay Pal Gupta, advisor, Retailer and Distributor Chemists Association (RDCA). An email sent to Abbott seeking clarity on the availability of Limcee did not elicit any response till press time.

Sodium ascorbate, the ‘key starting material’ (KSM) for making Vitamin C tablets, comes from China and the crackdown by the Chinese government enforcing environmental laws has not only led to a rise in the prices of raw material but is also resulting in supply disruptions, according to people in the pharmaceutical industry.

Over the last year, nearly 150 API manufacturers in China have closed down their facility to comply with environmental standards. More than 60% of APIs in India are sourced from other nations and for some specific APIs, the dependence is more than 90%, according to the department of pharmaceuticals under the ministry of chemicals and fertilisers.

“The prices of key raw materials have gone up by 30-60% in the last one year. Unless formulators are able to absorb the increased prices of APIs (whether imported or indigenous), the patients may experience some shortages of medicines," said D.G. Shah, the secretary general of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA).

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which manufactures the popular brand of Vitamin C tablets, Celin, also faced “intermittent" short supplies, according to the company’s spokesperson. However, “the product is available in the market", the spokesperson said.

B.R. Sikri, president, Federation of Pharmaceutical Entrepreneurs, blamed price regulation in India for the shortage. “Though the shortage of medicines is being driven by supply uncertainties emerging out of China, which is where KSM manufacturers are located, the price regulation in India is also to be blamed for the shortage in the market," he said.

“Vitamin C tablets are under price regulation. The companies are manufacturing Vitamin C only to maintain the brand equity. The shooting API prices and price regulation in India are the main factors deterring new players from entering the market," he said.

The present situation also has a brighter side, said Shah. “The pharmaceutical industry is reeling under pressures of increased prices of imported raw materials and weakening of rupee vis-à-vis dollar, as most imports, including those from China, are dollar denominated. This double whammy has a brighter side too. The domestic companies that have capacities and know-how have started exploring re-commissioning the API facilities. It is likely that they could be commercially viable at the current prices. However, it is a slow process and the adjustment may take some time," he said.

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Updated: 26 Sep 2018, 08:52 AM IST
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