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Glenmark-DCGI face-off over Covid drug, a sign of things to come

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on July 21, 2020

Drugmaker Glenmark’s latest run-in with the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) over the pricing of its Covid-19 drug Fabiflu is a situation likely to crop up more often in the coming days.

At the heart of the issue is the use of public resources and funds or fast-tracked government processes to get a medicine or vaccine quickly into the market for public use. But a concern, and a universal one at that, arises when all that Government support does not seem to reflect in the final price of the medicine to the patient.

The concern has been articulated by several public health voices over the last many months in the context of medicines, vaccines and medical technology developed to tackle Covid. And the call for free or subsidised drugs and vaccines, for instance, is only set to get louder as more companies get ready to roll out their Covid vaccines.

Fabiflu’s price

In Glenmark’s case, the DCGI, in a letter to the drugmaker cited a representation from a Member of Parliament who pointed out that Fabiflu, at ₹103 per tablet, would cost a patient about ₹12,500 for the period of treatment. “After all (the) positive approach, accelerated processes and efforts by DCGI, the Health Ministry and relevant State FDA departments, the cost proposed by Glenmark is definitely not in (the) interest of the poor, lower middle class and middle class people of India,” the DCGI letter quoting the MP said, seeking a clarification from Glenmark.

 

The Mumbai-based drugmaker had recently brought down its price by 27 per cent on the antiviral to ₹75 per tablet, and as more companies bring out their versions of favipiravir, overall prices are expected to come down further. A section of doctors though continues to raise concerns on the antiviral, details on the studies done on it and results coming out of countries like Japan that have discontinued a study on the original drug. A source revealed that more trial details were likely from Glenmark in another 10 days.

But as updates on vaccine candidates are scheduled to come out over the coming months, there is international concern over the access and affordability of the vaccine when it becomes available.

Public health groups and former heads of States have made representations to the World Health Organisation (WHO), stressing that the vaccine should be a “people’s vaccine”.

More recently, a long list of public personalities including Nobel Laureates Muhammad Yunus, Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, artists like Shabana Azmi and businessmen Narayana Murthy, Ratan Tata and Sir Richard Branson, for instance, urged the WHO “to design a World Action Plan on Covid-19 vaccine.” Calling on global leaders to declare Covid-19 vaccines as a “Global Common Good, free from any patent right belonging to anyone”, the high-profile list of signatories said, “We appeal to them (WHO) to set up an international committee responsible for monitoring the vaccine research and to assure equal access to the vaccine for all countries and all people within a publicly announced pre-determined time frame.”

Published on July 20, 2020

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