Covid-19 vaccine: Cipla scales up manufacturing of remdesivir to meet high demand

Besides remdesivir, tocilizumab that Cipla markets under licensing pact with Swiss pharma company Roche is also seeing huge demand

August 11, 2020 / 08:47 PM IST
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Drug maker Cipla said on Tuesday it is scaling up the production of antiviral drug remdesivir, used in COVID-19 treatment, by manufacturing the drug at its Goa plant.

"Currently the demand is huge for remdesivir, and we are scaling up our internal manufacturing of Remdesivir," Kedar Upadhye, global chief financial officer of Cipla, told Moneycontrol.

Upadhye did not specify the new capacity that will be added, but hinted that over a period of time, the company wants to move remdesivir production in-house.

Cipla has partnered with BDR Pharmaceuticals for API supplies and Sovereign Pharma for finished dosages.

Sovereign Pharma has the capacity to produce up to 95,000 vials per month.


COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Cipla launched remdesivir under brand name Cipremi at Rs 4,000 per vial in July. Cipremi is the cheapest of all generic versions of remdesivir available in the market.

A patient needs five vials of the drug.

Cipla is among the six Indian generic pharma manufacturers that have signed non-exclusive voluntary licencing agreements with Gilead Sciences for its patented drug Veklury (remdesivir).

Moneycontrol reported that 800,000 doses of remdesivir are expected to be available in the country in August as existing suppliers expand capacity, and new manufacturers get ready to enter the market with their generic versions.

Tocilizumab shortages

Besides remdesivir, another drug tocilizumab that Cipla markets under licensing pact with Swiss pharma company Roche is also seeing huge demand, leading to shortage of the drug in the market.

"For tocilizumab, unfortunately we are not able to do anything. But we are in touch with them (Roche) to ease supplies," said Upadhye.

Upadhye further said nobody was prepared for this kind of bump up in demand, and it is difficult for them to increase the capacity.

Upadhye said the company has the broadest range of drugs and products for COVID-19, from face masks to sanitizers and drugs like remdesivir, favipiravir, tocilizumab, hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, vitamins, among others.

"The idea is to obviously service patients. Some of these are in-license products. The margins are low. Whatever little margin we make is actually invested in giving PPE kits and other things to doctors.

"The retained profits of COVID-19 products are hardly anything. In fact, it will be negative also, if I start making a list," Upadhye said.
Viswanath Pilla is a business journalist with 14 years of reporting experience. Based in Mumbai, Pilla covers pharma, healthcare and infrastructure sectors for Moneycontrol.
first published: Aug 11, 2020 08:16 pm

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