India's Syngene International Ltd aims to supply half-a-million vials of COVID-19 drug remdesivir through its local distribution partners next month, its top executive said, as the country faces shortages of the medicine amid a second wave.
"At the moment we are operating at near maximum capacity (to produce remdesivir)," Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Hunt told Reuters on Wednesday.
"I'd expect the volume of drug that we are supplying into the Indian market to step up as we get into May," he added.
Hunt did not provide details on how many vials the company has already delivered.
Syngene, majority owned by biopharmaceutical company Biocon Ltd, is one of the seven Indian companies that have licensed remdesivir from U.S.-based Gilead Sciences Inc. The seven companies together have a total installed capacity of about 3.9 million units per month.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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.
"Across all seven manufacturers, (Syngene is) probably one of the smallest by capacity, but you are seeing everybody working round the clock...to boost the supply," Hunt said.
This follows Gilead's announcement on Monday that it would donate a minimum of 450,000 vials of the drug to the Indian government.
The country's death toll from the pandemic crossed the 200,000 mark on Wednesday, worsened by shortages of hospital beds and medical oxygen.
Remdesivir is approved in India for restricted emergency use to treat severe COVID-19 cases, despite the World Health Organisation advising against using the drug due to doubts about its effectiveness in treating the infection. Indian health officials have said it is only to be used in a hospital setting for patients who need oxygen.
Syngene, headquartered in the southern technology hub of Bengaluru, offers contract research and manufacturing to global drugmakers. Its clients include U.S. pharma majors Amgen Inc and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.
The company late on Tuesday reported a 33.6% jump in consolidated profit to 1.61 billion rupees ($21.63 million) for the fourth-quarter ended March 31.Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.