India limits drug exports, raises concern of coronavirus-linked drug shortage

The Indian government sent out a notice March 3 that it is halting exports of 13 active pharmaceutical ingredients and 13 finished drugs due to concern about COVID-19 causing shortages, Bloomberg reported

Manufacturers of many of the products India is halting exports of are in China and are either shut down or making less than usual due to COVID-19, the disease caused by a member of the coronavirus family. 

India is the source of about 20 percent of the world's generic drugs, but it relies on China for about 66 percent of its active pharmaceutical ingredients, according to Bloomberg

The affected drugs include an over-the-counter painkiller, paracetamol; a common antibiotic, metronidazole; and various versions of vitamin B.

"We're working very closely to look at that list to determine how that will affect the medical supply chain," FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn, MD, reportedly told Congress March 3. 

Group purchasing organization Premier released a statement March 3 saying it doesn't expect immediate shortages due to the halt, "but we are continuing to monitor developments as realities are constantly in flux." 

Premier said it is unclear how long the restrictions will last and that if other countries follow India's lead, it could "strain an already frail drug supply chain, particularly for injectable generic drugs that more typically rely on ingredients sourced from overseas."

The company said most of its contracted pharmaceutical suppliers have about four to six months worth of active pharmaceutical ingredients on hand. 

Premier added that it's "almost impossible" to determine the impact India's halt will have on the U.S. drug supply, as drugmakers aren't required to report to the FDA the exact quantities of active pharmaceutical ingredients they source from overseas. 

"As a nation, we don't know how dependent we are on Indian sources of supply," the company wrote. 

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