Shake-up in China industry disrupts vitamin C supply in India

GSK is said to have sold Celin, its brand of vitamin C tablets, in the wake of the shakeup in China’s active pharmaceutical ingredients industry amid environmental concerns. Mint

The shake-up in China’s active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) industry in the wake of environmental concerns has started taking a toll on Indian pharmaceutical companies, particularly vitamin manufacturers.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has sold its iconic brand of vitamin C tablets, Celin, to Koye pharmaceuticals. GSK faced “intermittent” short supplies early this year. However, people well versed with the development, said that the shutdown in China had led to GSK’s decision to sell the 30-year-old product.

“With most vitamin drug makers dependent on import of APIs from China, they are getting hurt by a shutdown of API manufacturing units in China. GSK’s decision to sell their product was solely based on this development,” said one person aware of the development, requesting anonymity. An email sent to GSK seeking clarity on the issue did not elicit any response till the time of going to press.

Supply disruptions have also been witnessed with popular chewable vitamin C tablet, Limcee, manufactured by Abbott Healthcare Pvt. Ltd.

A market survey by Mint revealed that the product was not available in several pharmacies in Delhi. “Limcee has not been in supply for several months,” said one of the pharmacists surveyed, requesting anonymity.

Abbott had introduced a new product, Limcee Plus, in March.

Limcee Plus has vitamin C and amino acid and thus does not only target patients who suffer from vitamin C deficiency. It was approved by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India in January 2018, in the health supplement category.

Industry experts also blame price regulation in India for the shortage.

Limcee has been under the national list of essential medicines since 2013. Limcee used to cost 14 for a strip of 15 tablets.

However, Limcee Plus costs four times, or 60 for a strip of 15 tablets, since it was introduced under the health supplement category.

“Limcee is for use by people with vitamin C deficiency, whereas Limcee Plus is a health supplement containing vitamin C plus amino acid. Amino acids help the body replenish cells, repair tissue and break down food. Limcee Plus was launched in March 2019. Abbott continues to supply Limcee in India to meet the growing demand,” said a spokesperson of the company.

There are no other significant players in the market for vitamin C with formulations such as that of Limcee (Ascorbic Acid plus Sodium Ascorbate). Sodium ascorbate, the “key starting material” for making vitamin C tablets, comes from China and the Chinese government’s enforcement of environmental laws has not only led to a rise in the prices of the raw material, but is also resulting in supply disruptions, said industry insiders, requesting anonymity.

In the past one year, nearly 150 active pharmaceutical ingredients manufacturers in China have closed down their facilities to comply with environmental standards. More than 60% of APIs in India are sourced from other nations and, for some specific APIs, the dependence is more than 90%, according to the department of pharmaceuticals under the ministry of chemicals and fertilizers.


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