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COVID-19: Even as domestic demand for Remdesivir outstrips supply, manufacturers are exporting the drug

One drug company executive says as per the licensing agreement with Gilead, companies will have to cater to 127 countries. Gilead has signed deals with Cipla, Dr. Reddy's, Hetero Labs, Jubilant Life Sciences, Mylan, Syngene and Zydus Cadila.

September 30, 2020 / 10:17 AM IST
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Even as the demand for anti-viral drug Remdesivir outstrips supply
and shortages get reported across India, manufacturers are shipping the drug overseas, further complicating the demand-supply equation.
Industry sources told Moneycontrol that while manufacturers in India can currently produce a little over 0.5 million vials, the country would need at least a million vials.

New players, capacity expansion by existing firms to help

The entry of players like Zydus Cadila and Dr Reddy’s, and capacity expansion by existing manufacturers could ease the supply situation, but the demand is increasing in tandem.

“Some portion of our production is now getting exported as there is a huge demand from other countries, where COVID-19 cases are rising,” said an executive of a pharmaceutical company who didn’t want to be named.

“But the first preference will be to meet domestic demand,” he said.

He says as per the licensing agreement with Gilead, the company will have to cater to 127 countries, and many of those countries are facing the burden of rising COVID-19 cases.

About 10-15 percent production is now diverted to exports, the executive added.


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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Gilead has signed licensing deals with Cipla, Dr. Reddy's Laboratories, Hetero Labs, Jubilant Life Sciences, Mylan, Syngene and Zydus Cadila to manufacture Remdesivir for distribution in 127 countries.

Which are the exporting firms?

The 127 countries consist of nearly all low-income and lower-middle income economies as well as several upper, middle- and high-income nations that face significant obstacles to healthcare access.

Cipla, for instance, is already supplying to South Africa, and plans to expand access to several sub-Saharan African countries.

Cipla partner BDR Pharma, which exclusively supplies the Remdesivir active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) to Cipla, said it has scaled up the capacity to 250,000 vials in September from just 70,000-80,000 in July. Cipla is augmenting capacity by producing Remdesivir in-house at its Goa facility.

Hetero is also exporting the drug.

Dr Reddy's said currently it is only supplying Remdesivir to the Indian market.

"We are continuing our efforts to cater to serve as many patients as possible and looking for ways and means to maximise access to all COVID-19 products by working on our own capacities and also partnering with other manufacturers. Currently, Remedivir supply is to the Indian market," the company spokesperson said.

Jubilant Life Sciences said it has no comments to offer.

Moneycontrol couldn't confirm whether Mylan, and Zydus Cadila are exporting Remdesivir or not.

Emails sent to these companies remained unanswered at the time of publishing the story. The story will be updated based on their responses.

Remdesivir demand spikes

Remdesivir has emerged as a major treatment option for COVID-19. As per clinical protocol, it should be used for treating moderate to severe COVID-19 patients who are hospitalised and are on oxygen support.

Follow our COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker here.

Many medical experts are of the view that the drug would prove to more effective if it is given at an early stage rather being tried only on patients with low blood oxygen levels. The executive, who didn’t want to be named, said that this is also contributing to the rising demand for the drug.

India has reported 6 million COVID cases, and 95,542 deaths. There are close to around 1 million cases, of which at least 20 percent would be eligible for receiving Remdesivir.

Meanwhile, the drug shortage is felt across India. While the shortages are severe in smaller towns, there were reports of shortages even in cities like Mumbai.

“There is still hoarding at the distributor level, and this needs to be checked and the state governments need to forecast the demand better,” the executive 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: Sep 29, 2020 03:17 pm
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