The pharmaceutical industry's growth slowed significantly last year in the aftermath of Covid-19 pandemic.
The life-saving drug market expanded at 6.5 per cent in the third quarter of 2020 to September, down from the annual double-digit of 10-12 per cent.
The healthcare system, centralised in urban areas, was virtually paralysed from April to July. Out of fear of contracting new coronavirus, doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers almost stopped providing services to patients during the period.
Industry insiders said this has led to the sluggishness of one of the fastest-growing industries in the country.
They said a large number of urban people consumed some vitamins and antibiotics to build immunity, but these are cheaper drugs in the market, making it difficult for the industry to fill the vacuum created by the lethal virus.
However, the big players, who dominate the country's market, found their sales volume less-affected.
Sales of drugs manufacturers having over-the-counter products were not hampered, thus keeping their financial health almost stable.
At the end of September, the total pharmaceutical market stood at around Tk 245 billion, according to IQVIA, a US-based pharma consultancy.
This is the retail sales of generic drugs. It does not include homeopathy, traditional and other drugs.
Square Pharmaceuticals, the largest drug maker of the country, retained its top position in the industry during the period.
It had nearly 17 per cent market share to nearly Tk. 41.6 billion during the period.
Incepta also retained its second position with an 11.6 per cent share to Tk 28.4 billion.
Beximco Pharmaceuticals was the third top company in Bangladesh and it has now a market share of nearly 9. 0 per cent to Tk 21.4 billion at the end of September.
Healthcare Pharmaceuticals Limited has emerged as the fourth biggest pharma in Bangladesh having a market share of 6.3 per cent to Tk 15.4 billion.
Opsonin Pharma had 5.3 per cent share in the local retail market securing the fifth position out of 200-plus drug makers.
Rabbur Reza, chief operating officer at Beximco Pharma, told the FE Bangladesh's market is urban-based and most of the healthcare facilities were shut in late March.
"Doctors had steered clear of visiting clinics and chambers in urban areas for months until July, so there were fewer fresh prescriptions,'' he said.
Mr. Reza said urban people consumed such as vitamins C and Vitamin D, which do not create much value to the totals as they are cheaper.
"In fact, such products cannot raise the overall sales volume," he added.
Monjurul Alam, director at Beacon Pharmaceuticals Limited, said the industry never faced such a situation in the past.
"We used to grow at 10-12 per cent a year, but now this is almost half," he noted.
He said the drug makers who have branded products did not face a huge fall in business.
"Our market is a branded market, branded products have more or less maintained sales," Mr. Alam argued.
"To my mind, the big firms who have branded and the OTC products were less-affected," he said.
Dr. Sayeed Ahmed, a director at Navana Pharmaceuticals, told the FE: "The general perception is that drug makers should have earned much money in the pandemic proved totally inverse."
He said many drug makers saw even in negative growth during the second quarter at a time when many healthcare facilities focused on the Covid patients alone.
He said the non-Covid patients were neglected to get healthcare services during the period.
"Our market does not depend on Napa or vitamin C drugs, we need to grow other products like drugs for hypertension, infections, diabetes and heart disease."
"COVID patients actually do not need specific drugs, so only some cheaper drugs were prescribed at the hospitals during the second and third quarter of 2020," he said.
Beximco senior official said that the situation is improving fast as doctors are returning to hospitals and chambers and the market could make a recovery this year.
"We may not be back at the level of pre-COVID, but we may be close to the pre-COVID level in 2021," he told the FE.
A number of listed firms, who produce sanitizers and such hygiene products, saw their prices climb on the exchanges during the period as investors bought their shares sensing the rise in income of the pharmaceutical companies amid the pandemic.