Cipla sees opportunity for its anti-HIV drug as coronavirus toll nears 500

Topics Coronavirus | Cipla

Photo: Reuters
With anti-HIV drugs being considered a possible line of treatment for the novel coronavirus that is spreading across the globe, companies like Cipla, which makes a particular anti-HIV drug combination, see an opportunity.

“Within the next few weeks or so, if scientific data shows that the two antiretrovial medications — lopinavir and ritonavir — can be used effectively to tackle coronavirus, we do see an opportunity there. We have already given donations (free samples) of the drug to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and also the Indian government," said Kedar Upadhye, global chief financial officer, Cipla.

Upadhye said the drug combination (which Cipla sells under the brand Lopimune) has protease inhibitors that are designed to block HIV viral replication. It is being considered a line of treatment for the novel coronavirus, which has caused the deaths of about 500 people globally.

However, this is yet to be established scientifically. Doctors are scrambling for a potent treatment for the virus, which is spreading fast and has no vaccines available yet. Traditional flu medication, and even Tamiflu, is not likely to contain the spread.

About a few weeks back, Chinese doctors said they saw positive response in patients (in Beijing) who were administered a drug cocktail comprising the anti-HIV combination and an anti-flu medication (oseltamivir).

Cipla can supply the drug globally if need be as it already has approvals in many countries, including the US. The company also hopes that in case of a global health emergency, approvals to supply the drug would not take much time. Cipla has already received queries from China for supply of the drug.

It has sufficient raw material to make about 10-12 million tablets of Lopimune. It makes these drugs at multiple sites in India, and sells it at a price of Rs 2,000 for 60 tablets. The established dosage is two tablets a day for HIV patients, making the cost of treatment around Rs 60 per day, or under a dollar.

“The Indian government is keeping a close tab on the situation to track down patients and contain the virus and we are also constantly engaged with them on the matter," Upadhye said. As for the overall inventory of raw materials, Cipla said it had two to four months of cover, given the supply disruptions of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and intermediates from China.

The industry expects things to look up from the middle to end of February in terms of kick starting manufacturing in China. Cipla has instructed its supply chain to invest in inventory.



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