The Future of the Pharmaceutical Industry in India: Navigating Challenges and Opportunities

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only been a global health crisis but has also unleashed economic challenges across various industries. This tumultuous period has particularly emphasized the urgency for India to achieve self-reliance, a narrative captured by the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ initiative. However, the ongoing pandemic has brought to light the vulnerabilities of India’s pharmaceutical sector, especially in terms of overdependence on imports for crucial medical supplies.

Overdependencies on Global Markets

India has earned its reputation as a leader in the global pharmaceutical landscape, boasting the largest number of US-FDA compliant Pharma plants and a significant share of WHO-GMP approved facilities. Despite these accomplishments, the Indian pharmaceutical industry ranks as the 14th largest globally, with exports contributing only 3.5% to total pharmaceutical exports.

Pharmaceutical Industry in India
Pharmaceutical Industry in India

The sector excelled in formulations and indigenous medicines, but gradual liberalization led to an influx of imports, particularly from China. Approximately 70% of India’s pharmaceutical requirements depend on Chinese imports, especially for Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs), the essential components for drug formulations. China’s cost-effective technologies, large-scale manufacturing, and supportive government policies made it a dominant force in API production, causing the shutdown of domestic API manufacturing in India.

The low cost of Chinese APIs, in turn, impacted the prices of medicines in India. Despite having some of the cheapest drug prices globally, the strict price control policies hinder manufacturers’ ability to invest in research and development, limiting universal accessibility. Moreover, the overproduction of drugs, often falling below global standards, poses challenges for exporters seeking to enter new markets.

Challenges and Policy Implications

The pharmaceutical sector’s unique position as the only industry open to 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has limitations, particularly in light of recent global developments. The ‘America First’ agenda, aiming to reduce generic pharmaceutical imports, poses a potential setback for one of India’s leading exports.

This raises critical questions about the trajectory of the Indian pharma industry, from API production challenges to policy implications for scaling up domestic operations. Addressing these issues is crucial for Indian pharmaceutical companies to realize their global potential.

The Way Forward: Government Interventions and Industry Restructuring

To ensure a resilient supply chain and reduce dependence on external factors, India needs proactive interventions. The “Look East” policy, designed to decrease trade dependencies on the US and the EU, must align with efforts to revamp the pharmaceutical industry’s structure.

Pharmaceutical Formulation Development Taj Pharmaceuticals
Pharmaceutical Formulation Development Taj Pharmaceuticals

The government has taken steps to promote manufacturing of raw materials, establish three API parks with common utilities, and reduce dependence on China for 53 APIs through the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme. However, about 35%-40% of existing API capacity remains idle, emphasizing the need for efficient utilization.

According to a McKinsey report, the higher burden of diseases in India provides an opportunity for pharma companies to cater not only to domestic needs but also to international markets with higher age groups. Yet, challenges such as the shortage of delivery points and limited accessibility to drugs hinder the industry’s full potential.

Building a Sustainable Market: Innovations and Investments

For a sustainable market and robust growth, innovative business models must be developed to balance drug price control and local manufacturing costs. The government’s easing of protectionist policies is a positive step, but effective implementation is crucial to overcome the challenges facing the pharmaceutical sector.

As countries express interest in investing in the Indian market for COVID-19 vaccine and medical equipment supply, this presents a unique opportunity for India to achieve true independence in the pharmaceutical segment.

In conclusion, the future of the pharmaceutical industry in India hinges on addressing the challenges of overdependence, policy implications, and global dynamics. Proactive government interventions, efficient utilization of existing resources, and innovative business models are key to fostering a sustainable and self-reliant pharmaceutical sector.


  1. Q: How has China’s dominance in API production impacted the Indian pharmaceutical industry?
    • A: China’s cost-effective technologies and large-scale manufacturing led to the shutdown of domestic API manufacturing in India, creating an overdependence on Chinese imports.
  2. Q: What challenges do Indian pharmaceutical exporters face in global markets?
    • A: Overproduction of drugs falling below global standards, coupled with strict price control policies, makes it challenging for exporters to explore new markets.
  3. Q: How is the ‘America First’ agenda affecting India’s pharmaceutical exports?
    • A: The ‘America First’ agenda aims to reduce generic pharmaceutical imports, posing a potential setback for one of India’s leading exports.
  4. Q: What steps has the Indian government taken to reduce dependence on external factors in the pharmaceutical sector?
    • A: The government has established three API parks, introduced the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme, and targeted financial incentives to promote manufacturing of raw materials.
  5. Q: What factors contribute to the growing domestic market for pharmaceuticals in India?
    • A: Higher burden of diseases, rapidly growing population, and incentives for local production of APIs contribute to the growth of the domestic market.