It is a question I ask myself everyday… but I have no clear answer. From a day-to-day perspective, I am not seeing the pressure reducing,” said Abhay Gandhi the CEO of Sun Pharma’s North America business, in a rather pensive mood at the company’s third quarter earnings call. Sun Pharma, India’s largest pharmaceutical firm has been fighting tooth and nail to hold its ground in an extremely competitive pricing environment in its biggest market, the US. Companies across the pharma industry, both main players as well as channel partners, are consolidating even as prices of drugs are falling like there’s no tomorrow. The carnage seems never-ending — at least for a few years.
And there are two solid reasons why the pricing pressure on the generic business will continue. First, there is rapid consolidation among customers of generic drug makers, which drastically reduces their bargaining power and second, the intense competition among generic drug-makers. “Earlier a pharmacy was acquiring another pharmacy; an insurance company was acquiring another insurance company. Now, the retail firm is acquiring the insurance firm and vice versa. While there was vertical consolidation earlier, now it’s horizontal, but consolidation itself is relentless. So, negotiating power of the generic companies is reducing vis-a-vis the big customers, who are buying the medicines from them,” explains Deepak Malik, pharma analyst at Edelweiss Securities.
The other stress point is the new regulatory climate whereby the emphasis is on increasing the rate of approvals, and the entry of new competition from China, Japan and new Indian companies. Average annual ANDA approval during FY05-15 was 571, whereas it is expected to be 924 for FY16-18. “The increased rate of approvals has given rise to high competition, which is unlikely to stabilise over the next 12-18 months,” says Abhishek Sharma, VP, IIFL Institutional Equities.
For Sun Pharma, the woes don’t end there. An extended hiatus on approvals for its Halol plant, since September 2014, has dealt a severe blow to its topline. Even in the latest inspection of the Halol plant in February 2018, the USFDA has made three observations, although the management reckons these are purely procedural in nature.
Meanwhile, Sun’s revenue