Drug-maker Cipla, which has been the frontrunner among Indian pharmaceutical companies in its COVID-19 response with the launch of drugs, sanitizers, face masks and diagnostics, said it is not ruling out the possibility of entering into alliances to bring out a COVID-19 vaccine.
"I don't want to rule out anything.. but generally, we have been happy with the work we have down with our COVID-19 medicines portfolio," Kedar Upadhye, Global Chief Financial Officer of Cipla, told Moneycontrol.
Upadhye, however, declined to provide any specific details about undertaking any talks for partnerships.
"This (vaccines) is an area, where in our view manufacturers have predominant play, trading would be difficult," Upadhye added.
With the government announcing a Rs 35,000-crore outlay for COVID-19 vaccines in the Budget 2021, vaccine makers are expected to benefit.
Analysts say that vaccine manufacturing requires technical expertise. Cipla had sometime back built a biotech manufacturing facility in Goa with an investment of Rs. 350 crore, which can be utilised for producing vaccines.
Cipla decided in 2017 against manufacturing biosimilar drugs in-house as part of a companywide restructuring that involved exiting non-core and low-profit businesses.
"Pure play vaccine companies like Serum Institute of India, Bharat Biotech, Biologic E and Zydus Cadila, have an advantage in striking deals with large vaccine makers," said a pharma analyst, who didn't want to be named.
"Someone like Cipla will have to rely on third-party contractors to manufacture the vaccine. It becomes less profitable for them unless there are huge volumes," said the analyst quoted above.
Dr Reddy's took the plunge and entered into a collaboration with Russian sovereign fund RDIF to develop, manufacture and distribute the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine in India. To be sure, the company does have biotech capabilities as it manufactures biosimilar drugs, but it is still relying on two partners including Hetero to manufacture the vaccine.
On whether Cipla has any interest in distributing Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine, Upadhye said the cost of the vaccine would be too high for the Indian market at the moment.
Cipla's India business has received a huge boost from COVID-19 drugs like Gilead's antiviral drug Remdesivir. In the third quarter, the company’s prescription business grew at 22 percent to Rs 2,231 crore on a year-on-year basis, and about 5 percent of those sales were from COVID-19 medications. For the nine months of FY21, the COVID-19 portfolio has contributed about Rs 550 crores.
Upadhye said the contributions from the COVID portfolio will drop in the coming quarter as the number of cases is seeing a steep drop, but expressed confidence in healthy traction in respiratory and chronic therapies. Recovery in the hospital and acute businesses with the opening up of several OPDs will drive the growth of the India business, he added.