India, hoping to challenge Chinese dominance, plans API production push: report

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The Indian government is a major U.S. supplier of hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial being evaluated to treat COVID-19. (Pixabay)

The novel coronavirus pandemic has caused a host of problems in the global pharmaceutical supply chain—particularly in China, a major producer of drug ingredients. Now, seeing an opportunity, India is reportedly working on a plan to supersize its own ingredient manufacturing to combat Chinese dominance in the market. 

The Indian government is planning to escalate domestic production of pharmaceutical ingredients to counteract a perceived over-reliance on Chinese imports now hampered by COVID-19 shutdowns, Bloomberg reported. 

India has identified and prioritized production of 53 raw materials and active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) as part of its "China-plus-one" policy to fill in supply gaps of affordable medicines, sources told the outlet. The plan includes investing $1.3 billion in domestic pharmaceutical producers and potentially reviving state-run companies to ramp up cheap generic production. 

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According to Bloomberg, 70% of India's imports of APIs come from China, totaling $2.4 billion of India's $3.56 billion in import spending for those products each year.

In early march, India stopped exports of 26 APIs and drugs that range from paracetamol––the ingredient in Tylenol––to antivirals like acyclovir for treating shingles and antibiotic neomycin. India is reportedly upping production of paracetamol and antibiotics penicillin and ciprofloxacin. 

RELATED: U.S., India spar over antimalarial as COVID-19 highlights state actor role in supply chain

India's reported move to challenge Chinese dominance as a producer of pharmaceutical ingredients comes as the novel coronavirus pandemic has trained a spotlight on the state of the global supply chain. 

In the U.S., which relies on Indian APIs for a range of medications, the federal government has sparred with its South Asian supplier to keep the taps open, particularly for antimalarial hydroxychloroquine. The longtime generic med has received a raft of interest––including from President Donald Trump––as a possible treatment for COVID-19. 

Earlier this month, India walked away from a full-scale export lockdown on hydroxychloroquine after Trump directly intervened. India, which produces around 47% of the U.S. supply of hydroxychloroquine, according to Bloomberg Intelligence, agreed to license its stock of hydroxychloroquine to "badly affected" countries and others that rely on its supply of the drug.

Trump has touted a combination of hydroxychloroquine and antibiotic azithromycin as a potential game changer in the race for a COVID-19 therapeutic as the pharmaceutical industry cycles a number of older meds through clinical trials to determine their efficacy in treating the disease. The FDA previously posted shortages of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine due to increased demand partly tied to Trump's explicit endorsement.

RELATED: FDA's Hahn: No sign China has affected U.S. drug supply during coronavirus pandemic

Meanwhile, China has also been closely watched for its response to the crisis––but so far, the government there hasn't directly affected American supply, despite its ongoing trade dispute with the Trump White House, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn told Fox News earlier this month.

However, Hahn did highlight the need for U.S. drugmakers to build "redundancy" into their supply chains, potentially obviating the country's dependence on drugs made abroad.

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