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Indian pharma is being squeezed – and it’s bad news for drug access in developing countries

Indian pharma is being squeezed – and it’s bad news for drug access in developing countries

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India’s pharmaceutical industry is renowned for selling medicines to the world at reasonable prices, especially developing countries. This has helped Africa in its fight against HIV/Aids, for instance. Such endeavours have earned India a reputation as the “pharmacy of the world”.

Now, the advantages that have enabled India to play this role are in danger of being eroded. Not only would this be bad news for India’s economy, it could make it harder for developing countries to access the medicines they need – threatening the UN Sustainable Development Goals in the process.

India’s challenges

India is the world leader in generic medicines, which contain the same ingredients as the originator version, and go on the market after the original patent has expired. India’s top pharma firms include Cipla, Aurobindo Pharma, Lupin, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories and Sun Pharmaceutical Industries.

One challenge is coming from China, which has increasingly been exporting active pharmaceutical ingredients in recent years. Indian companies have managed to turn this into an opportunity by using these ingredients to supply medicines at reasonable prices while reducing their production costs and R&D spend.

But China is also expanding into drug formulations. By our calculations, China’s global share of formulations exports trebled from 0.4% in 2009 to 1.2% in 2018, while India’s doubled over the same period from 1.5% to 3.6%. Remarkably, 36% of China’s exports are to the EU and North America, where regulations are the most stringent, compared to 19% in 2009. Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” policy has identified pharmaceuticals as one of its strategic industries.

Xi Jinping applauding at a conference
Pharma is one of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 2025 priorities. EPA

China’s rising share of formulations has been aided by improved standards that appear to be making the world less apprehensive about Chinese medicine quality. Notably, the China Food and Drug Administration issued guidelines in 2013 to make generic medicines bioequivalent to the originals, and in 2016, the government made them mandatory.

Chinese pharma has also placed much emphasis on using AI and genetics for developing new drugs. This enables firms like XtaIPi to identify thousands of molecules which could be used to treat a disease with fewer resources and time.

One silver lining is that China is proposing a new regulation that would give its firms exclusive control over their clinical test data. This sort of rule is favoured by the “innovator” pharma industries that we see in the west, and is opposed by generic pharma industries like India’s. It indicates where Chinese pharma might be headed, and may drive up its production costs for formulations – thus potentially benefiting India.

Another challenge to India is wealthy countries protecting their pharma industries to ensure drug security. In August, President Trump issued an executive order that called for the elimination of drug imports, both as active ingredients and formulations. France and Germany look to be heading in a similar direction.

If the US order is strictly adhered to, it will heavily affect Indian pharma. More than half of India’s pharma sales are from exports, and by our calculations, the US has bought 37% of them over the past three years.

Access to the US market is also critical for leading firms to maintain profit margins. For example, when Dr Reddy’s secured 180-day exclusivity in the US for selling the antidepressant fluoxetine 40mg in 2001-02, it increased the company’s annual sales of generic drugs by 81% and operating profits by 50%.

The COVID dimension

COVID-19 underlines India’s importance to developing countries when it comes to drug access. The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccines producer, is collaborating with the World Health Organization, the COVAX facility of Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to produce and supply 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine at a maximum cost of US$3 per dose.

This is the lowest quoted price in the world for a COVID vaccine, and will see them distributed in low and middle-income countries. By comparison, German biotech firm BioNTech’s deal with US involves a price of US$19.50 per dose, while the Moderna/US deal is set at between US$32 and US$37 per dose.

SII separately has a manufacturing agreement with AstraZeneca to produce one billion doses of the Covishield vaccine, which the UK company is developing with the University of Oxford. The drug is in phase III trials in India at the moment.

SII is also partnering with US firm Novavax to develop and distribute the NVX-CoV2373 vaccine in collaboration with CEPI and COVAX. Again, this involves a minimum of one billion doses for India and other low to middle income countries.

Several other COVID vaccine candidates are being developed by Indian pharma firms: Covaxin, being developed jointly by Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council of Medical Research, has just entered phase III; and ZyCoV-D, by Zudus Cadila, is in phase II. These too are likely to be much cheaper than western equivalents.

Besides vaccines, Indian firms are developing drugs for treating COVID conditions. Baladol, developed by PNB Vesper Life Sciences, has become the first new drug for treating COVID to enter phase II clinical trials around the world. Studies so far have shown that it reduces death rates by 80% – whereas WHO-approved medication dexamethasone reduces them by 20%.

Despite India’s contribution to global access to medicines, the government has never tried to use this as an instrument of foreign policy. All decisions on export destinations and pricing have been made by the firms.

Contrast this with China, which is reportedly using its own vaccine projects as a commercial negotiating tool with countries who stand to benefit. This threatens to put pressure on countries whose leverage was limited already. It is another reason why India’s position as pharmacy of the world has a value far beyond its borders.

Les auteurs ne travaillent pas, ne conseillent pas, ne possèdent pas de parts, ne reçoivent pas de fonds d'une organisation qui pourrait tirer profit de cet article, et n'ont déclaré aucune autre affiliation que leur organisme de recherche.

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Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide…

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Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide Black Lives Matter riots in the summer of 2020, some elite colleges and universities shredded testing requirements for admission. Several years later, the test-optional admission has yet to produce the promising results for racial and class-based equity that many woke academic institutions wished.

The failure of test-optional admission policies has forced Dartmouth College to reinstate standardized test scores for admission starting next year. This should never have been eliminated, as merit will always prevail. 

"Nearly four years later, having studied the role of testing in our admissions process as well as its value as a predictor of student success at Dartmouth, we are removing the extended pause and reactivating the standardized testing requirement for undergraduate admission, effective with the Class of 2029," Dartmouth wrote in a press release Monday morning. 

"For Dartmouth, the evidence supporting our reactivation of a required testing policy is clear. Our bottom line is simple: we believe a standardized testing requirement will improve—not detract from—our ability to bring the most promising and diverse students to our campus," the elite college said. 

Who would've thought eliminating standardized tests for admission because a fringe minority said they were instruments of racism and a biased system was ever a good idea? 

Also, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out. More from Dartmouth, who commissioned the research: 

They also found that test scores represent an especially valuable tool to identify high-achieving applicants from low and middle-income backgrounds; who are first-generation college-bound; as well as students from urban and rural backgrounds.

All the colleges and universities that quickly adopted test-optional admissions in 2020 experienced a surge in applications. Perhaps the push for test-optional was under the guise of woke equality but was nothing more than protecting the bottom line for these institutions. 

A glimpse of sanity returns to woke schools: Admit qualified kids. Next up is corporate America and all tiers of the US government. 

Tyler Durden Mon, 02/05/2024 - 17:20

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Four burning questions about the future of the $16.5B Novo-Catalent deal

To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.
Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand…

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To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.

Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand its own production capacity for its weight loss drugs, the Danish drugmaker said Monday it will pay $11 billion to acquire three manufacturing plants from Catalent. It’s part of a broader $16.5 billion deal with Novo Holdings, the investment arm of the pharma’s parent group, which agreed to acquire the contract manufacturer and take it private.

It’s a big deal for all parties, with potential ripple effects across the biotech ecosystem. Here’s a look at some of the most pressing questions to watch after Monday’s announcement.

Why did Novo do this?

Novo Holdings isn’t the most obvious buyer for Catalent, particularly after last year’s on-and-off M&A interest from the serial acquirer Danaher. But the deal could benefit both Novo Holdings and Novo Nordisk.

Novo Nordisk’s biggest challenge has been simply making enough of the weight loss drug Wegovy and diabetes therapy Ozempic. On last week’s earnings call, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said the company isn’t constrained by capital in its efforts to boost manufacturing. Rather, the main challenge is the limited amount of capabilities out there, he said.

“Most pharmaceutical companies in the world would be shopping among the same manufacturers,” he said. “There’s not an unlimited amount of machinery and people to build it.”

While Novo was already one of Catalent’s major customers, the manufacturer has been hamstrung by its own balance sheet. With roughly $5 billion in debt on its books, it’s had to juggle paying down debt with sufficiently investing in its facilities. That’s been particularly challenging in keeping pace with soaring demand for GLP-1 drugs.

Novo, on the other hand, has the balance sheet to funnel as much money as needed into the plants in Italy, Belgium, and Indiana. It’s also struggled to make enough of its popular GLP-1 drugs to meet their soaring demand, with documented shortages of both Ozempic and Wegovy.

The impact won’t be immediate. The parties expect the deal to close near the end of 2024. Novo Nordisk said it expects the three new sites to “gradually increase Novo Nordisk’s filling capacity from 2026 and onwards.”

As for the rest of Catalent — nearly 50 other sites employing thousands of workers — Novo Holdings will take control. The group previously acquired Altasciences in 2021 and Ritedose in 2022, so the Catalent deal builds on a core investing interest in biopharma services, Novo Holdings CEO Kasim Kutay told Endpoints News.

Kasim Kutay

When asked about possible site closures or layoffs, Kutay said the team hasn’t thought about that.

“That’s not our track record. Our track record is to invest in quality businesses and help them grow,” he said. “There’s always stuff to do with any asset you own, but we haven’t bought this company to do some of the stuff you’re talking about.”

What does it mean for Catalent’s customers? 

Until the deal closes, Catalent will operate as a standalone business. After it closes, Novo Nordisk said it will honor its customer obligations at the three sites, a spokesperson said. But they didn’t answer a question about what happens when those contracts expire.

The wrinkle is the long-term future of the three plants that Novo Nordisk is paying for. Those sites don’t exclusively pump out Wegovy, but that could be the logical long-term aim for the Danish drugmaker.

The ideal scenario is that pricing and timelines remain the same for customers, said Nicole Paulk, CEO of the gene therapy startup Siren Biotechnology.

Nicole Paulk

“The name of the group that you’re going to send your check to is now going to be Novo Holdings instead of Catalent, but otherwise everything remains the same,” Paulk told Endpoints. “That’s the best-case scenario.”

In a worst case, Paulk said she feared the new owners could wind up closing sites or laying off Catalent groups. That could create some uncertainty for customers looking for a long-term manufacturing partner.

Are shareholders and regulators happy? 

The pandemic was a wild ride for Catalent’s stock, with shares surging from about $40 to $140 and then crashing back to earth. The $63.50 share price for the takeover is a happy ending depending on the investor.

On that point, the investing giant Elliott Investment Management is satisfied. Marc Steinberg, a partner at Elliott, called the agreement “an outstanding outcome” that “clearly maximizes value for Catalent stockholders” in a statement.

Elliott helped kick off a strategic review last August that culminated in the sale agreement. Compared to Catalent’s stock price before that review started, the deal pays a nearly 40% premium.

Alessandro Maselli

But this is hardly a victory lap for CEO Alessandro Maselli, who took over in July 2022 when Catalent’s stock price was north of $100. Novo’s takeover is a tacit acknowledgment that Maselli could never fully right the ship, as operational problems plagued the company throughout 2023 while it was limited by its debt.

Additional regulatory filings in the next few weeks could give insight into just how competitive the sale process was. William Blair analysts said they don’t expect a competing bidder “given the organic investments already being pursued at other leading CDMOs and the breadth and scale of Catalent’s operations.”

The Blair analysts also noted the companies likely “expect to spend some time educating relevant government agencies” about the deal, given the lengthy closing timeline. Given Novo Nordisk’s ascent — it’s now one of Europe’s most valuable companies — paired with the limited number of large contract manufacturers, antitrust regulators could be interested in taking a close look.

Are Catalent’s problems finally a thing of the past?

Catalent ran into a mix of financial and operational problems over the past year that played no small part in attracting the interest of an activist like Elliott.

Now with a deal in place, how quickly can Novo rectify those problems? Some of the challenges were driven by the demands of being a publicly traded company, like failing to meet investors’ revenue expectations or even filing earnings reports on time.

But Catalent also struggled with its business at times, with a range of manufacturing delays, inspection reports and occasionally writing down acquisitions that didn’t pan out. Novo’s deep pockets will go a long way to a turnaround, but only the future will tell if all these issues are fixed.

Kutay said his team is excited by the opportunity and was satisfied with the due diligence it did on the company.

“We believe we’re buying a strong company with a good management team and good prospects,” Kutay said. “If that wasn’t the case, I don’t think we’d be here.”

Amber Tong and Reynald Castañeda contributed reporting.

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Petrina Kamya, Ph.D., Head of AI Platforms at Insilico Medicine, presents at BIO CEO & Investor Conference

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb….

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Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

Credit: Insilico Medicine

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

The session will look at how the latest artificial intelligence (AI) tools – including generative AI and large language models – are currently being used to advance the discovery and design of new drugs, and which technologies are still in development. 

The BIO CEO & Investor Conference brings together over 1,000 attendees and more than 700 companies across industry and institutional investment to discuss the future investment landscape of biotechnology. Sessions focus on topics such as therapeutic advancements, market outlook, and policy priorities.

Insilico Medicine is a leading, clinical stage AI-driven drug discovery company that has raised over $400m in investments since it was founded in 2014. Dr. Kamya leads the development of the Company’s end-to-end generative AI platform, Pharma.AI from Insilico’s AI R&D Center in Montreal. Using modern machine learning techniques in the context of chemistry and biology, the platform has driven the discovery and design of 30+ new therapies, with five in clinical stages – for cancer, fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and COVID-19. The Company’s lead drug, for the chronic, rare lung condition idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, is the first AI-designed drug for an AI-discovered target to reach Phase II clinical trials with patients. Nine of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies have used Insilico’s AI platform to advance their programs, and the Company has a number of major strategic licensing deals around its AI-designed therapeutic assets, including with Sanofi, Exelixis and Menarini. 

 

About Insilico Medicine

Insilico Medicine, a global clinical stage biotechnology company powered by generative AI, is connecting biology, chemistry, and clinical trials analysis using next-generation AI systems. The company has developed AI platforms that utilize deep generative models, reinforcement learning, transformers, and other modern machine learning techniques for novel target discovery and the generation of novel molecular structures with desired properties. Insilico Medicine is developing breakthrough solutions to discover and develop innovative drugs for cancer, fibrosis, immunity, central nervous system diseases, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and aging-related diseases. www.insilico.com 


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