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HAL exploring possibility of manufacturing Covid-19 vaccine, proposes 100 million vials a year

Nirja Saraf, Managing Director of HAL, speaks about the company’s plans on manufacture of Covid-19 vaccine, marketing Ayurveda products, its efforts to produce medical devices, and future of the sole company providing narcotic drug detection kits to the Narcotics Control Bureau, Government of India.

Written by Anjali Marar | Pune |
March 20, 2021 1:49:50 pm
Nirja Saraf, HALNirja Saraf, Managing Director of Hindustan Antibiotics Limited (HAL)

On March 10, the Pune-based Hindustan Antibiotics Limited (HAL), the oldest public sector drug manufacturer, completed 69 years of operation. For decades, the company’s name remained synonymous with Penicillin, whose bulk production was permanently suspended in 2003. Later this year, HAL is all set to roll out mass production of two medicinal ingredients, which are currently being imported from China.

Putting its losses behind, the company is slowly making a comeback. Nirja Saraf, Managing Director of HAL, spoke to Anjali Marar about the company’s plans on manufacture of Covid-19 vaccine, marketing Ayurveda products, its efforts to produce medical devices, and future of the sole company providing narcotic drug detection kits to the Narcotics Control Bureau, Government of India.

With the world still fighting Covid-19 pandemic, does HAL plan to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines in future?

The demand for Covid-19 vaccine is going to outstrip the supply this year. The global population, as of the latest statistics available, is approximately 7.82 billion. Considering that an average of two doses is required to vaccinate each person, we will require around 15.64 billion doses. The world has a normal production capacity of approximately 3.5 billion doses of vaccine. It is now seeking to manufacture around 16 billion doses to vaccinate each person. It is therefore apparent, that there is a huge gap in demand and supply of the vaccine.

This also implies that there is a lot of scope for new facilities to be built or modified to augment the existing capacity of Covid-19 vaccine production. There is a huge potential for contract manufacturing of this vaccine.

HAL, on its part, is exploring the possibility of manufacturing Covid-19 vaccine at its Pimpri facility. It is proposed to manufacture Covid-19 vaccine fill finish (filling vials with procured vaccine) at our existing Betalactum Dry Powder Injectable (DPI) block. This will be done after effective decontamination, change of layout with respect to man and material movement, replacement of DPI line by Liquid Filling Line and other similar essential modifications.

A request proposal has been sent to the government. Once all approvals and funds are made available, these works can be completed within six months. We propose to have a capacity of 100 million vials per annum.

It is learnt that HAL intends to resume bulk production of two key medicinal ingredients. Could you elaborate the project?

Yes, HAL plans to resume mass production of two key medical ingredients — Telmisartan and Meropenem — in near future. This project is in the initial stages now and is expected to be commissioned by July this year.

Telmisartan is used to treat conditions related to lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases. The global Telmisartan market size was valued at USD 3,880.9 million in 2017, and is expected to witness a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 1.4 per cent over 2018 – 2026.

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On the other hand, the Meropenem injection is used to treat skin and abdominal infections caused by bacteria and meningitis, in adults and children of 3 months of age and older. It is in a class of medications called antibiotics. The demand for Meropenem is also expected to grow at the similar rate as that of Telmisartan.

The Union government is promoting the Production Linked Incentive (PLI). As a manufacturing company, where do you think the government should extend its support to HAL?

HAL intends to participate in the PLI scheme. At present, the details are being worked out. The government should provide HAL with necessary approvals and funds, so that the company can provide optimum production and cut on imports in the near future.

HAL is the sole provider of Narcotic Drug Detection Kits (NDDK) to the Narcotics Control Bureau, Govt. of India. What makes HAL’s kit unique ? How have these kits been improvised suiting present times?

HAL, in collaboration with CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), had developed NDDKs during 1988-89. The uniqueness of the kit is that it is a tool which provides law enforcement officers with rapid and simple tests for performing Preliminary Field identification of the banned drugs, mostly encountered in illicit drugs trafficking.

Since the inception of supplying these kits, the packaging has evolved from vanity kit to brief case to full plastic box devoid of metal parts. The reagent bottles were replaced from glass bottles to pilfer-proof plastic bottles. The volume of reagents was increased as per the need of the NCB.

There is scope to improve present kits so as to include testing of more banned substances. For this purpose, we need to have small quantities of each banned substance to develop NDDKs further. HAL has also developed and is regularly supplying Precursor Chemicals Detection kits and Ketamine Detection kits to the NCB.

How do you see HAL’s tryst with Ayurvedic products ? Can you share, in detail, about the 170 proposed Ayurvedic products awaiting to hit markets?

HAL intends to enter into the Ayurvedic market through its manufacturing associates after due compliance of all regulatory norms. Recently, we have started marketing of ‘Amsarveda’ Mouth Sanitizer in Kolkata. Other ranges of Ayurvedic products are expected in April this year.

HAL, being a pharmaceutical Public Sector company, has the distinct advantage in forming a positive brand image with the common people of the country.

Can you talk about HAL’s contributions towards the Pradhan Mantri Bharatiya Janushadhi Pariyojana (PMBJP)?

The PMBJP is functioning under the Bureau of Pharma PSUs of India (BPPI) and at the formation of BPPI, HAL has contributed by way of capital infusion of Rs. 10 lakhs at the time of its inception. We supplied various life-saving drugs to BPPI, who, in turn, distributed them to various Jan Aushadhi Kendras all over India.

Despite facing stiff financial challenges for a few years, the company survived and the annual turnover is improving. Please enlist the measures taken under your leadership.

In my tenure, HAL has consolidated manufacturing of agro products like Aureofungin and Humaur. We restarted the manufacturing and marketing of Intra-Venous Fluid (IVF) products, the facility of which was under upgrade since last year. HAL is the only Pharma Public Sector to have a facility to manufacture IVF. Also, HAL is the only Central Public Sector Enterprise having set up new facility for manufacture of Alcoholic Hand Disinfectant during 2019-20.

In the history of HAL, a single product – Streptocycline, has achieved the highest ever turnover of Rs. 16 crores, as on date, during the current year 2020-21. The re-starting of plants has resulted in an increased revenue to the tune of Rs 61.25 crores in 2019-20 from Rs 10.73 crores during 2016-17. We are expecting turnover of Rs 100 crores in 2020-21. In addition, the company adopted several cost cutting measures.

Is HAL open to the Public Private Partnership model beyond its present ventures?

Yes, HAL is open to work on the PPP model for setting up of new projects. It shall essentially involve identification of technology partner, percentage sharing of investment and profits.

Where do you see the future of companies like HAL, with merger proposals of Public Sector Units operating in pharmaceuticals floating around? What upgrades or new technologies have become inevitable at the company?

There are talks on the possible merger of Public Sector Units operating in Pharmaceuticals units and forming a single Pharmaceutical Public Sector Unit. HAL shall continue to contribute in terms of producing Life Saving Drugs, mainly the IVFs to the merged Public Sector Unit.

HAL has made a financial request to the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers for new projects as a part of the Rehabilitation Package. We have planned several projects to stay relevant to the present times which include upgradation of its formulation facilities to WHO-Good Manufacturing Practice Compliance, introduction of new high value products, setting up of new facilities for bulk manufacturing, adoption of ERP system for inventory control and production in man power.

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