Future of Pharmaceutical Industry in India

Navigating Challenges and Opportunities


The COVID-19 pandemic has not only been a global health crisis but has also revealed the vulnerabilities in the economic structures of several nations. For India, this challenging period emphasized the need for self-reliance, particularly in the pharmaceutical sector. This article delves into the intricacies of the pharmaceutical industry in India, exploring its overdependencies, the impact of global dynamics, and the way forward for sustainable growth.

The Pandemic’s Unveiling

Atmanirbhar Bharat and the Reality Check

Critical Medicines Hits Drug-Resistant TB Patients
Critical Medicines Hits Drug-Resistant TB Patients

The ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ initiative, advocating for self-reliance, faced a reality check during the pandemic. Despite optimistic rhetoric, India’s dependency on imports for critical medical supplies and equipment was starkly exposed. The disruption in the supply chain not only inflated domestic medicine prices but also hampered foreign trade due to export restrictions.

Key Starting Material (KSM) Conundrum

The low availability of Key Starting Material (KSM) within India underscored the vulnerabilities of the pharmaceutical sector. This crucial component’s scarcity revealed weak points in the country’s pharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities.

Overdependencies on Global Markets

India’s Global Pharmaceutical Leadership

Indian pharmaceutical firms have established themselves as global leaders, boasting a substantial number of manufacturing sites catering to the US market. However, despite this global presence, the industry is only the 14th largest globally, with exports contributing to a mere 3.5% of total pharmaceutical exports.

The Chinese Dependency

The success of the Indian pharmaceutical industry took a hit with the influx of imports from China. Approximately 70% of India’s pharmaceutical requirements, especially the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs), crucial for drug formulations, are sourced from China. The cost advantage of Chinese bulk drugs led to the closure of domestic API manufacturing facilities in India.

Price Control Policies and Manufacturing Challenges

While drug prices in India are considered among the cheapest globally, stringent government price control policies hinder manufacturers from investing in research and development. The dependence on cheap imports has resulted in overproduction that often falls short of global standards, limiting market expansion.

Challenges and Risks

FDI Limitations and the ‘America First’ Agenda

Despite being the only sector open to 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and having a foothold in the US market, India faces limitations in exporting to other countries. The ‘America First’ agenda poses a potential setback for India’s pharmaceutical exports, raising questions about the industry’s future trajectory.

Interlinked Questions

The production (or lack thereof) of APIs and policy implications are interlinked challenges affecting the Indian pharmaceutical market. Addressing these issues is crucial for India’s pharma companies to realize their global potential.

The Way Forward

A Call for Proactive Interventions

India needs clear and proactive interventions to establish a robust pharmaceutical supply chain. These interventions should focus on boosting local manufacturing and reducing dependence on external factors.

Look East Policy

In line with India’s “Look East” policy, the government must revamp the pharma industry’s structure. Targeted financial incentives, such as the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme and the establishment of API parks, aim to reduce dependencies on China for critical pharmaceutical components.

Utilizing Existing Capacity

Efficient utilization of existing API units is crucial. According to a McKinsey report, the growing domestic market, driven by a higher burden of diseases, provides opportunities for pharma companies to cater to both domestic and international markets.

Addressing Bottlenecks

Shortages in delivery points and limited accessibility to drugs remain bottlenecks for pharma companies. Increasing healthcare spending, government-sponsored programs, and improved economic growth are essential for overcoming these challenges.

Innovative Business Models

Pharmaceutical Industry in India
Pharmaceutical Industry in India

Developing innovative business models is imperative for balancing drug price control and local manufacturing costs. The government’s eased protectionist policies must be timely and effectively implemented to address the pharma sector’s challenges.

As countries express interest in investing in India for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines and medical equipment, the pharmaceutical industry has a unique opportunity to become truly independent. Addressing challenges and embracing proactive measures will pave the way for sustainable growth in the Indian pharmaceutical sector.


  1. How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact India’s pharmaceutical industry?
    The pandemic exposed vulnerabilities, revealing India’s dependency on imports for critical medical supplies and equipment. This heightened the urgency for self-reliance in the pharmaceutical sector.
  2. What are the key challenges faced by the Indian pharmaceutical industry?
    Challenges include overdependence on global markets, especially China, stringent price control policies hindering R&D, and limitations in exporting to countries beyond the US.
  3. How is India addressing its pharmaceutical challenges?
    India is implementing measures such as the Look East policy, financial incentives like the PLI scheme, and the establishment of API parks to boost local manufacturing and reduce dependency on external factors.
  4. What role does the ‘America First’ agenda play in the challenges faced by Indian pharmaceutical exports?
    The ‘America First’ agenda poses a risk for Indian pharmaceutical exports, emphasizing the need for the industry to diversify its markets and reduce dependency on the US.
  5. Why is efficient utilization of existing API units crucial for India’s pharmaceutical sector?Efficient utilization of existing API units is essential to maximize production capacity and meet the growing demand for pharmaceuticals, both domestically and internationally.