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In the first week of May, India’s health ministry convened a video call with the country’s drug makers. As cases of the novel coronavirus continued to mount, the government wanted to know wanted to know The Print Govt asks pharma firms when remdesivir, the big hope against Covid, can be made in India Read more  how they planned to bring remdesivir to India. 

An antiviral drug manufactured by pharma major Gilead Sciences, the US drug regulator had recently authorised the emergency use of remdesivir for the treatment of Covid-19 patients. However, with Gilead focused on more developed (read, more lucrative) markets, India would have to chart its own path to bring the expensive, patented drug to India.

India’s drug makers were optimistic. On 13 May, Cipla Ltd. and Hetero Labs Ltd. announced that they had secured licence from Gilead to produce the drug. Actually producing it, though, was a whole other matter. A best case scenario for this was three months. Realistically, double or even triple that.

That lag is a serious problem. Remdesivir’s effectiveness is still unproven unproven US Food and Drug Administration Coronavirus Update: FDA Issues Emergency Use Authorization for Potential COVID-19 Treatment Read more . Even the Indian government remains unconvinced unconvinced The Times of India 'Government still not satisfied with the efficacy of antiviral drugs Remdesivir, Favipiravir in fighting Covid-19' Read more  about its efficacy. By the time it is ready to deploy en masse in India, there’s no guarantee it won’t be superseded by other, more effective drugs. For Indian drug makers, which anticipate a single vial of remdesivir to sell for upto to Rs 5,000 ($66) —around Rs 100,000 ($1,326) for the entire treatment—an assured market is imperative.

At present, though At present, though New York Times How Long Will a Vaccine Really Take? Read more , some 254 therapies are being explored globally to treat Covid-19, making any investment at this point akin to rolling dice. There are also around 100 projects to develop a vaccine in the works, which would drastically shrink the market for remdesivir.

A senior executive at Pune-based Serum Institute—the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer—told The Ken that the company is working with four research partners globally.


Ruhi Kandhari

Ruhi writes on the impact of healthcare policies, trends in the healthcare sector and developments on the implementation of Electronic Health Records in India. She has an M. Sc. in Development Studies from the London School of Economics.

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