Coronavirus spurs India to restrict exports of 2 dozen drugs

While eyes have been on China for signs that COVID-19 might result in drug shortages, India has come up with a surprise of its own. The country, which accounts for about 40% of U.S. generic drugs, has halted exports of more than two dozen APIs and drugs.  

India’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade today announced (PDF) it was restricting 26 APIs and formulations until further notice. They range from paracetamol––the ingredient in Tylenol––to antivirals like acyclovir for treating shingles and antibiotic neomycin. 

RELATED: FDA anticipates disruptions, shortages as China outbreak plays out

The government gave no further explanation, but Dinesh Dua, chairman of the Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council of India, told Reuters, “Irrespective of the ban, some of these molecules may face shortages for the next couple of months.” If interruptions from the virus get worse, he said, some shortages may become “acute.” 

The FDA Friday reported it has been alerted to one shortage by a drugmaker due to the outbreak without identifying the drug or the drugmaker but said alternatives to the drug were available. 

It says it is in contact with more than 180 producers and is closely monitoring 20 products with APIs or formulations sourced solely from China. It has said it will look for alternative supplies if shortages occur. 

The agency pointed out there are no vaccines, gene therapies or blood derivatives licensed by the FDA that are manufactured in China.

RELATED: Drugmakers tell analyst ingredient prices are rising as FDA reports first supply hit tied to COVID-19

But India is another matter. India gets nearly 70% of its ingredients and drugs from China and then manufactures many of them for export to the rest of the world. A serious interruption in its supply lines could track directly to the U.S., creating shortages or forcing up prices. 

Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal in a note last week said his team was told prices of “key starting materials" are already up 10% to 50% depending on who is asked, and generics producers are beginning to look to their clients to absorb those increases. 

RELATED: Sandoz pledges 'stable' pricing for generics, antibiotics amid COVID-19 supply chain worries

The only drugmaker to publicly address prices is Novartis’ generics unit Sandoz, which pledged to hold the line on prices of essential medicines while the situation plays out.