Gujarat:Pharma Cos Serve Bitter Pill: Interns Are Not Allowed

Gujarat:Pharma Cos Serve Bitter Pill: Interns Are Not Allowed

Ahmedabad, 22 Aug 2019:


Known as India’s pharmaceutical hub, Gujarat houses nearly 40% of country’s pharma companies. Students enrolled in pharmacy colleges in the state aspire to intern with top-notch companies, learn from the best in the industry and get experience in research, production, analytics and development, and marketing.


However, the internship scene is bleak for students of Gujarat Technological University these days.


Pharma companies with best of manpower, infrastructure and technology are refusing to admit interns in their facilities owing to stringent norms followed to obtain the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) certificate. The companies are not ready to take in ‘outsiders’ as that would mean violating the norms. It is mandatory for these companies to meet the requirements of FD&C Act in order to market their products overseas.


According to FDCA (Food and Drug Control Administration), there are around 4250 licensed pharmacy companies in Gujarat dealing in allopathy, ayurveda, cosmetology, homeopathy and blood-bank. Of these, 600 WHO compliant companies sell their drugs in the overseas market.


Students not job-ready


Pharma companies’ refusal to admit interns, however, is a loss for the students. Despite paying a high fee, the students are not made job-ready by the industry they plan to join. As per Pharmacy Council of India, a student has to undergo 500 hours of training at the industry during or after diploma and degree course.


Students can do so in pharma companies, certified chemist shops or hospitals as per their requirement. Until the students complete mandatory training, they are not registered with the state pharmacy council as pharmacists.


USFDA norms are strict


“We came across many cases where major companies dealing with the drug markets do not allow in students as interns. The main reason is that USFDA norms are extremely strict and they do not want to risk losing a certificate at any cost.


“From their point of view, they do not want to take the risk. However, this means students do not get the practical experience needed to make them industry-ready. We have written to state government’s Food and Drugs Control Administration to intervene and ask pharma companies to take in students as intern and train them,” said GTU V-C Navin Sheth.


Sheth said this is second time they have written to Hemant Koshia, Commissioner of FDCA, requesting them to intervene. “In bigger industries, there are departments like drug-manufacturing units apart from marketing, packaging and other units. If students are only allowed to pay a visit to these plants and not allowed to work there and understand the practical aspects of the industry, how will they be good professionals? Pharma companies keep on cribbing about colleges not making students industry-ready but if they do not allow students to gain exposure, how will they be ready for the industry?” said Sheth.


No problem at my college


Principal of state’s oldest pharmacy college, the LM College of Pharmacy, Mahesh Chhabria said not all major industries refuse taking students as interns. He said students from his college have been interning at major pharma companies and getting requisite exposure.


“Pharma companies not accepting students as interns are also justified in their move as they might not be getting good quality students. It is a fact that pharma colleges have mushroomed, and number of students have increased substantially. These companies have to also maintain confidentiality of intellectual property and follow stringent regulatory guidelines to remain competitive in the market,” Chhabria said.


Students forced to join smaller companies


There are myriad departments in large scale pharma companies like quality assurance, packaging, manufacturing, research and development, clinical research, operations, quality, finance, administration and marketing to name a few.


“Small or medium companies don’t have all these departments, limiting the exposure they can give to the interns. Major companies, even when they allow students, give limited access,” Chhabaria added.


What officials say


FDCA Commissioner Hemant Koshia said he has not yet come across any letter from the GTU raising concern about lack of internship opportunities. “It is not that all companies are reluctant to offer internships. There may be few companies that do offer opportunities. Those not offering them may be concerned about following regulatory norms. As such, internships are mutually decided by companies and colleges. FDCA intervenes as and when required,” he said.


What industry says


Head of the department at one of the major pharma companies in Ahmedabad said, “We don’t hire interns as part of policy. Interns are a big no-no in R&D department for obvious reasons of intellectual property concerns. Pharma students, in such a situation, have no option but to intern with small or medium companies. Internship is offered to only the best and brightest of the lot and that too with reference from principals. But such instances are rare.”


GTU V-C Navin Sheth said colleges do have machines like manufacturing tablets but at a smaller scale. “Major companies have machines that make one lakh tablets per hour. Such exposure is not possible at college level lab or smaller pharma companies,” he said. Aniket Patel, a student of LJ Institute of Pharmacy who completed B Pharm two months ago, can only hope that he gets to do internship at a major pharma company. “Theoretical knowledge is not going to help us. It is only when we get chance to work with major pharma company that we can test or refine it. Practical application can only help us land a good job in future. Internship with a major pharma firm also opens up job avenues abroad,” he said.


Rise in number of students


According to Admission Committee for Professional Courses (ACPC) data, the number of pharma students have increased over the last five years though the number of colleges have remained stagnant. In 2014-15, 1,923 seats out of total 4,565 seats remained vacant. In 2018-19, out of 5,035 seats in 69 colleges, only 655 seats remained vacant. In 2019-2020, the number of seats have increased to 6,198 seats in 72 colleges. GTU officials said the highest salary for a pharma graduate jumped to Rs 45,000 per month last year. Ahmedabad Mirror