Supply Chain Matters has featured multiple commentaries citing India based generic drug producer Ranbaxy Laboratories. Our latest commentaries were in a specific posting in late January and in an India based industry regulatory commentary published in February.

Thus, we were not at all surprised with this week’s announcement that Japan based Daiichi Sanko Co. the parent of Ranbaxy, has agreed to sell the generic drug manufacturer to India based Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. in a deal reported to be valued at $3.2 billion in a mostly stock-based deal. This transaction is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The U.S. market accounts for a significant amount of Ranbaxy’s current revenues, while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently bars imports from four out of five Ranbaxy production facilities in India due to inspectional findings. According to a report published by the Wall Street Journal, after a five year effort, Daiichi Sanko retreated from the expensive efforts to attempt to fix Ranbaxy’s drug-producing processes. Daiichi acquired Ranbaxy in 2008 for $4.6 billion. FDA warnings and citing’s continued throughout this entire period. The CEO of Daiichi indicated to the WSJ: “The deal will help accelerate a solution to the series of problems at Ranbaxy.”

A reflection on the broader picture, however, remains on the issue of production conditions across India based pharmaceutical facilities.  A report published by Reuters points out that India’s drug inspectors are hard pressed to oversee current drug production facilities. An India based drug official indicates to the Reuters reporters that there are 1500 inspectors responsible for more than 15,000 drug manufacturing facilities. Inspectors lack vehicles to travel to sites with reports that some inspectional practices are ignored. A study carried out two years ago concluded that one in every twenty-two locally made samples was of sub-standard quality. According to the Reuters report, about 40 percent of generic and over-the-counter medicines sold in the United States originate at over 500 India based production facilities. While facilities are barred by the FDA from shipping to the U.S., they typically ship to other global locations.

A follow-up report published by the Wall Street Journal (paid subscription) quotes workers and former employees of Ranbaxy as indicating “they received little training and were instructed to keep production going, even if that meant cutting corners.” One former maintenance technician at Ranbaxy’s Toansa plant indicated that he often signed blank documents which were filled in with information later to appear that equipment has been inspected. However, the WSJ cites former and current FDA officials as indicating that Mumbai based Sun Pharmaceutical has a better reputation for quality. However, in March, the FDA barred imports from a Sun API plant in Gujarat.

On her visit to India in February of this year, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg was diplomatic, indicating that a few India based drug manufacturers have been overshadowed by recent lapses in quality at a handful of pharmaceutical firms. The Reuters report seems to dispute that statement. Dr. Hamburg further indicated that officials at India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare share this goal and both agencies plan to work together to improve lines of communication and diligently work to ensure drug products exported from India are safe and of high quality.

With the proposed combination of Sun Pharmaceutical and Ranbaxy, the two India based generic drug producers when combined providing even more global scale, it would seem that the urgency among broader industry and India government regulators should be raised to aggressively address systemic production process issues and support strict adherence to published global Good Manufacturing Practices. Both domestic India drug consumers as well as global drug consumers expect such practices, and the reputation and brand value of India’s drug makers is clearly at stake. The Indian government is not the sole answer, rather India’s collective drug producers as a whole need to step-up their priorities.