Centre halts exports of antiviral drug Remdesivir amid rising Covid cases

An industry insider noted that not more than 10 per cent of the production was being exported at the moment
India on Sunday banned exports of antiviral drug Remdesivir, used to treat moderate to severe Covid-19, amid rising domestic demand and reports of shortages from states.

Export is banned till the situation in the country improves.

“The export of injection Remdesivir and Remdesivir active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) is prohibited till the Covid-19 situation in the country improves,” the Centre said in a statement.

The government said India was witnessing a surge in Covid-19 cases. As of April 11, there were 1.1 million active Covid cases and this was steadily increasing, the statement read.

“This has led to a sudden spike in demand for Remdesivir. There is potential for a further increase in this demand in the coming days,” the government noted.

An industry insider noted that not more than 10 per cent of the production was being exported at the moment.

Seven Indian companies are producing Remdesivir under a voluntary licensing agreement with US-headquartered Gilead Sciences, Inc. They have an installed capacity of about 3.88 million units per month.

Drugmakers said they were prioritising delivery to the local market.

Reacting to the decision to ban exports, Kedar Upadhye, global chief financial officer of Cipla, said: “Given what we are seeing in India, this may be the right step and we are anyway prioritising most of the supplies for India.”

Hyderabad-based drugmaker Hetero said: “Hetero has been one of the largest manufacturers of Remdesivir in India and our primary focus has always been to fulfil our country’s requirements. According to the current government directive on export restrictions, Hetero has minimum impact. We are also working to enhance deliveries, considering the current surge in cases.”

The government said on Sunday that the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) had been in touch with domestic manufacturers to ramp up the production of Remdesivir.

The statement further added: “All domestic manufactures of Remdesivir have been advised to display on their website, details of their stockists/distributors to facilitate access to the drug.”

Drugs inspectors and other officers have been directed to verify stocks and check their malpractices and also take other action to curb hoarding and black marketing. State health secretaries will review this stock-taking.

Manufacturers are in the process of ramping up production. Firms, including Hetero, Cadila Healthcare (Zydus Cadila), Mylan, and Cipla, are working to raise the production of this drug.

Zydus Cadila is planning to double its production of Remdesivir from 30,000 vials daily in the next few weeks.

According to industry sources, the drug shortage happened as manufacturers had cut down production after the demand fell. 

Since its launch (around July last year), Remdesivir’s sales were Rs 510 crore as of January 2021 (cumulatively). However, sales started to slip soon after.

According to the data from market research firm AIOCD Pharmasofttech AWACS, Remdesivir recorded sales of Rs 124 crore in November last year. Sales had fallen to Rs 41 crore in January. 

Maharashtra has been talking of supply shortages and has hinted it wanted to cap the prices of the drug at Rs 1,100 per vial or so. Zydus sells the drug at Rs 899 per vial now.

Some stockists, however, sell the drug at the minimum retail price, which is higher at Rs 5,000 or so for many brands.

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