Wonderer's Lust

India & the flu during the winter of 2014-15

This is a post that is speculative but I am willing to bet my money that in future if anyone looks at the market of adult flu vaccines in India, the winter of 2014-15 would be a key event. This is the winter when Indians heard about a silent killer in their midst with entire cities fearing the winter cold that many had taken for granted.

The H1N1 strain of the swine flu virus had entered India way back in 2010 and then had been present in the background with cases increasing during risk periods. However , no one was ready for what happened last winter.

The swine flu or H1 cases started growing with an actual epidemic beginning. The mortality while in the low single digits was higher in four risky sub-populations:-
1. Children
2. Pregnant women
3. Geriatric patients
4. Patients with an underlying repiratory health condition

To a rational mind this was still a risk of living. But what we had in many cities was pure panic with breathing masks vanishing from pharmacy shelves and anti-flu vaccinations tamiflu being hoarded.

The casualties numbered in the hundreds or perhaps early thousands with easily a 100-150 infections for each fatality.

I was lucky to have gone to some of the cities with the most panic where I saw healthcare professionals in full panic. While the government denies any change in the virus, the change in virulence suggests mutations in the virus increasing mortality and well as statbility outside the body for transmission.

The rest of the world may be panicking but for the pharma world this is an opportunity. Specifically vaccines…

Vaccines are an interesting business.While most adults think it is important for children, they seldom get themselves vaccinated. We can see with how low the uptake has been for the HPV vaccine and in the US how difficult the annual flu shots have been.

In the US/Europe flu vaccines are contentious with providing only a limited immunity based on a rough guess about the major strains predicted for the next season nearly 8 months before the real action. This leaves them them at a high risk for being redundant.

In India again there has never been a market for annual flu shots. However, this may change this year as they flu epidemic has sensitized the public about vaccines.

If I was the brand manager in the respiratory/vaccines portfolio of some of the large pharma companies with the correct compentencies, I would be looking to make this oppurtunity big.

So who among the companies in India can do it? Pharma companies with strong respiratory  or vaccines divisions. Thus my shortlist includes Cipla, Lupin(limited extent), GSK and Sanofi.

As a brand manager I would be primarily targetting Chest Physicians(asthamatics & other at risk patients), CP’s with a general practice(geriatric patients), Paediatricians ( for kids) and reputed GPs with family practice.

If I had to be my money on the company that would make it big, it would be Cipla. With their tie-up with Serum Institute of India, they have the expertise of partners to explore vaccines, Cipla could hit it big. Their monopoly on the repiratory market would also help.

The issues may be the fact that they have no product experience and the need for cold chain etc.

This is where GSK/Sanofi may score having already been in vaccines and being trusted by doctors.

Will the flu vaccines market explode in India. I guess we will know in 2-3 years.

One thought on “India & the flu during the winter of 2014-15

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