Indian pharma players get a high on Trump’s chloroquine dose

Rutam Vora Ahmedabad | Updated on March 21, 2020

Analysts see a false rally in stock prices as the drug for coronavirus is still at least 12-18 months away

Indian pharma companies had a tickling moment after US President Donald Trump underlined the significance of chloroquine formulations as a potential answer for treatment of the deadly COVID-19. It lifted the sentiment for the Indian drug makers engaged in making chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine formulations - used for treatment of malaria and severe arthritis.

While global players are currently undertaking extensive research for a drug to treat coronavirus infection, a statement from the US President fuelled the sentiment on the bourses. The stock prices of all Indian drug players making chloroquine saw an impressive rally between 2 per cent to 16 per cent on Friday. The stocks are seen rallying behind a fallacy that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine can cure COVID-19 paving the way for the world to fight the biggest challenge in decades.

“The US President may have said it but the FDA has not yet approved chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for treating COVID-19. Across the world, people are using a variety of anti-viral medicines trying to see if that works. But these are off-label use of the drugs, which would quire additional human trials before they are made available to the masses. No regulator will approve a drug which is intended to treat one disease but start being applied for other disease,” said Surajit Pal, Senior Analyst, Prabhudas Lilladher, a research and broking house.

The rally in stock prices of Indian companies, Pal stated, was driven by a false notion that the drug would soon be made available. “We would wish but the reality remains that it would take some more time to come out with a drug. It is risky on part of the US President to make such populist statement in a hurry to make a medicine available for the pandemic. USFDA had also clarified that they have not approved chloroquine for use in COVID-19. Indian players too, have not received any approval so far. The world would require new medicines and it will take about 12-18 months to come up,” Pal added.

The stock prices of Cadila Healthcare jumped over 16 per cent, Ipca Laboratories and Torrent Pharmaceuticals about 9 per cent and 8 per cent respectively, while Cipla and Aarti Drugs gained by about 5 per cent each. Bliss GVS Pharma also gained 2 per cent on BSE on Friday. The benchmark index Sensex gained over 5 per cent.

Also during an analyst call on Friday, Sharvil Patel, MD, Cadila Healthcare admitted that it was early to predict if chloroquine and hydroxychloroqunine can be seen as a potential treatment for Coronavirus infection. "More approaches would need to be taken next 4-5 weeks. There will be lot of trial and efforts," Patel added.

Meanwhile, a Mumbai-based API maker, Lasa Supergenerics Limited has come up with its own development of antiviral Compound Japanese off-patented drug - favipiravir as COVID-19 treatment. Omkar Herlekar, Chairman, Lasa Supergenerics Limited informed that the drugs which are capable of fighting any kind of viruses do have some capabilities to fight the nCOVID-19. "In two scenarios of a patient who is untreated versus a patient treated with choroquine or favipiravir, the later case has better prospects of survival. But for favipirariv it has shown good results in Chinese and Japanese population, we are not sure, how Indian population responds to favipiravir. Also, it is not registered with Indian Pharmacopoeia or even in the US. So we will first need the DCGI approval to get the IP registered for the drug," he said.

Once the Favipiravir therapy is approved by global regulatory authorities, we would approach DCGI for conducting required bioequivalence clinical trials in India and also seek for strategic private investments and/or Government aid to commercialise this product subject to all regulatory approvals and trials, he informed. Lasa in collaboration with Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT) is developing the drug, which Herlekar believes to make available within a "few weeks".

Published on March 21, 2020

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