Pharma firm plans to import Covid-19 treatment drug from Bangladesh

Updated May 30 2020

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Company asks authorities for urgent regulatory approval. — AFP/File
Company asks authorities for urgent regulatory approval. — AFP/File

KARACHI: A local pharmaceutical company plans to import a generic version of remdesivir — a broad spectrum antiviral medication that has shown to reduce recovery time in Covid-19 patients — from a Bangladesh-based manufacturer.

The drug has been granted emergency use authorisation by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and authorities in Japan and the UK to treat hospitalised patients with severe manifestations of coronavirus.

According to a statement released by Searle Company Limited on Friday, the firm has entered into an exclusive licensing and marketing agreement with Beximco Pharmaceuticals, Bangladesh.

“It’s the first company in the world to introduce the generic variant of the drug. Our partnership will provide an immediate supply of the finished product at an affordable price and will help healthcare providers of Pakistan to treat their hospitalised Covid-19 patients without any delay,” said Mohammad Sajid, business development director at Searle.

Company asks authorities for urgent regulatory approval

The company decided not to make any commercial profit from the import (till the time the pandemic is over) and also to donate it to the government and Covid-19-designated hospitals, he added.

Asked about drug price in Bangladesh and its dosage, Mr Sajid said it cost around $70 per vial and six to a dozen vials were administered to a patient depending upon disease’s severity.

“Remdesivir is a direct-acting viral drug that inhibits viral RNA (Ribonucleic acid) synthesis. It is administrated intravenously and is authorized for the treatment of hospitalized patients with severe Covid-19 infection.”

Searle, he said, was actively taking the matter to the relevant authorities of Pakistan for necessary regulatory approval and was confident that in the existing pandemic, the relevant authorities would consider the matter on an urgent basis to support the product availability.

“Meanwhile, the drug would be imported under the patient access programme, which allows import when hospitals make a demand.”

Bangladesh, according to experts, has made remarkable progress in the pharmaceutical sector in recent years.

Some Bangladesh-based pharmaceutical companies, they said, were approved by the FDA and exported their products to the US. The global trade rules allow nations defined by the United Nations as least-developed countries (LDCs) to manufacturer patented drugs to make them more affordable in their markets. Bangladesh is one of 47 countries that fall in this category while Pakistan is not.

Remdesivir is currently undergoing clinical trials around the world, including in the UK. Early data suggests it can cut recovery time by about four days, but so far there has been no evidence that it will save more lives.

Earlier this month, Ferozsons Laboratories Limited, a subsidiary of BF Biosciences Ltd, said it would make the drug in Pakistan after signing a non-exclusive licensing pact with the US-based Gilead, which manufactured the drug, to make and sell the drug to 127 nations. However, the pharmaceutical company had announced that its production could take weeks.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2020