It’s a barely a five-minute walk from New Delhi’s Patel Nagar metro station. The lane, bristling with commercial activity, stands out by itself. Sweet shops, bakeries, juice shops, spy camera vendors, or even a small outlet selling Ayurvedic medicines for in-vitro fertility treatment. South Patel Nagar has it all. Amidst all this chaos, in a building with a juice outlet to the front and up a narrow flight of stairs, is Aimil Pharmaceuticals, a little-known company which is kicking up some chaos in the medical world too.

Exactly a year ago, Aimil launched Ayurvedic pills called BGR-34 for diabetes. Then it continued ‘launching’ it as new states got added to the distribution network. Mainstream media, without a peep into its conspicuous claims, kept it in circulation by publishing reports of how BGR-34 is a breakthrough drug developed by two Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) labs in Lucknow – Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP) and National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI).

On September 26, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “CSIR has developed the first Ayurvedic medicine of the country for diabetic patients. All of you are aware about the potential of this medicine. Now our goal should be to make people aware of the benefits of this medicine so that they can make best use of the same.” He was speaking at the 75th Foundation Day celebration of CSIR.

Clearly, the Prime Minister trusts CSIR to do scientific work and can’t possibly ask for evidence. But other scientists and doctors are asking questions, and they can’t find any answers. The so-called drug is technically herbal extract and is being marketed as a medicine which is “scientifically validated” and “meets allopathic standards”.

Both these claims are dubious.

First, the definition

Since the drug is available in any chemist shop, marketed sometimes as Ayurvedic medicine and sometimes as a ‘diabetes drug’, it calls for a clarification. Because if it is the former, it needs to offer clinical evidence of safety and efficacy of its drug properties; if it is the latter then it is illegal as advertisement of drugs is a criminal act in India and it ought to have the Drug Controller’s approval.

The definition

Since the drug is available in any chemist shop, marketed sometimes as Ayurvedic medicine and sometimes as a ‘diabetes drug’, it calls for a clarification. Because if it is the former, it needs to offer clinical evidence of safety and efficacy of its drug properties; if it is the latter then it is illegal as advertisement of drugs is a criminal act in India and it ought to have the Drug Controller’s approval

If an Ayurvedic product falls under the category of “Classical Preparation” in the Ayush system, those documented in the ancient text, it need not seek the Drug Controller’s approval.

AUTHOR

Seema Singh

Seema has over two decades of experience in journalism. Before starting The Ken, Seema wrote “Myth Breaker: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and the Story of Indian Biotech”, published by HarperCollins in May 2016. Prior to that, she was a senior editor and bureau chief for Bangalore with Forbes India, and before that she wrote for Mint. Seema has written for numerous international publications like IEEE-Spectrum, New Scientist, Cell and Newsweek. Seema is a Knight Science Journalism Fellow from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a MacArthur Foundation Research Grantee.

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