Cipla to launch generic drug for bird flu

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P.T. Jyothi Datta

Mumbai, Oct. 14

CIPLA has done it again. As more countries report incidents of Avian flu, the Mumbai-based drug maker Cipla has said that it will be ready with generic versions of Roche's anti-influenza drug Tamiflu by the year-end.

"Cipla has developed the generic version of the drug, but we will honour the patent (on the drug) in countries where it is valid. Where it is not valid, the situation does not arise," the Cipla Chief, Dr Yusuf Hamied, currently in Spain, told Business Line.

Tamiflu is an anti-viral drug used to treat bird-flu and Cipla's announcement comes as governments stockpile the drug fearing an epidemic. Swiss drugmaker Roche is under pressure to step up supplies of Tamiflu, as fears of a shortage of the drug fanned across countries.

The last time around Cipla stirred up global markets was in 2001, when it offered its anti-AIDS drugs for African patients.

Dr Hamied said that his interest in having a generic version of Tamiflu was sparked by the concern that India was unprepared. "What happens if there is an emergency in India? It has hit Turkey. If it hits India it will make the earthquake in Pakistan and Kashmir look like a tea-party. This is a serious situation; I hope there is no epidemic. But what I am saying is a warning alarm. India should be prepared," he said.

Unwilling to be drawn into committing on price, he said, "It will be a humanitarian price." Ten tablets sell at $60 in the US, at £30 in England and even in tenders, the price of the drug is quoted at $30 for 10 tablets, he said. But then again, he adds, "Price is secondary, availability is critical."

No Government in India or from any other region has approached Cipla yet for the drug, he said. "We have sent a message to WHO (World Health Organisation). We will work within the parameters of the patent," he said, indicating that the company would not target the US and Europe, unless asked by governments.

"We will manufacture the drug and keep it for an emergency," he said, reiterating that the drug was being developed with a humanitarian view.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated October 15, 2005)
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