Friday, May 1, 2009

Local drug cos may chip in to treat swine flu

NEW DELHI: The swine flu outbreak, classified by the World Health Organisation as a “public health emergency of international concern”, may see


Indian drug makers pitching in with the generic version of the antiviral Tamiflu as the world looks for quick, affordable options to counter the infection.

“We have already received proposals from people on behalf of countries in Latin America, Mexico and Israel. We have the capability to supply 1.5 million dosages of the drug within 4-6 weeks,” said Amar Lulla, joint MD, Cipla.

Cipla and other Indian pharma majors can now legally manufacture generic versions of Tamiflu after the patent office in Delhi last month rejected a patent application by Swiss company Roche, which markets the antiviral in India. With this, Indian companies can export the generic versions to countries where Tamiflu is not patented.

Even in countries where Roche holds the patent, the government concerned can issue compulsory licensing, which essentially means waiving the patent to allow generic players to supply drugs in public interest.

The swine flu outbreak that was first reported from Mexico has so far claimed over 100 lives and has now spread to Canada, parts of Europe, and at least five states in the US, where it has already been declared a public health emergency.

Swine flu, or swine influenza, is a form of the virus that normally infects pigs. There are many forms of flu, and the different varieties have the ability to exchange genes with one another. The form of flu that originated in Mexico is a genetic mixture of viruses that have been seen in pigs, birds and people.

In 2006, when the bird flu outbreak took place, Cipla and Ranbaxy had supplied the antiviral to some Asian countries after the respective governments intervened to buy the generic version.

"The Indian government already has a stockpile of Tamiflu which it procured during the bird flu outbreak, and one million more will be procured," said to Dr VN Katoch, Director General, Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR).

The joint secretary in the health ministry Debasis Panda said that a generic drug in the market definitely makes a difference in terms of affordability and availability. However, since the judgment against Roche has come only recently, it remains to be seen how much time they would take to translate it in terms of availability.

Mr Lulla said he is yet to hear from either the WHO or the health ministry, but his company is ready for any eventuality. Cipla's stocks at the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) gained Rs 4.35 or 1.82% on expectations that the Mumbai-based company may get a huge order for the drug.

Cipla sells the drug at Rs 1,000 ($20) for 10 days (a typical course is five days), which is much cheaper than the patented ones. The shares of Biota Holdings, which markets GSK's antiflu drug Relenza, jumped 82% on Monday on the Sydney Stock Exchange.

Tamiflu (Oseltamivir Phosphate) is a drug developed by American company Gilead, and Roche has the marketing license for the drug in India. At present, Hy-derabad-based Hetero has an agreement with Roche to develop and market generic Tamiflu.



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