Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren’s efforts to source antiviral Remdesivir from Bangladesh-based Beximco Pharmaceuticals has given the procurement issue a whole new dimension.
Soren said he had written to the Centre regarding his efforts to procure the drug from Beximco, as local supplies fell short. The State was willing to procure 50,000 vials at $1 million, he said, adding that it had got a quotation for the same from Beximco. The State’s need was for 76,640 vials, but they had got just 8,038 vials, he said, in a letter on Sunday.
While the effort is within the realm of public interest, it opens a new flank on international procurement and pushes the boundary on intellectual property, a potent topic with pharmaceutical companies.
Public health voices and several former noble laureates have called for Covid-19-linked medical technologies, vaccines and medicines to be free of intellectual property restrictions, for the pandemic period. American company Gilead Sciences had given voluntary licenses to seven Indian companies to make its injectable Remdesivir and market in select countries. The local companies included Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Jubilant Pharma, Syngene (a Biocon company), Mylan (sourced from India), Cipla, Hetero and Zydus Cadila.
In fact, the company had said it would suspend royalty that these companies would have had to pay to them, in the pandemic period. Beximco is not part of Gilead’s international network of alliances, but has been making and marketing the drug. And the Jharkhand Chief Minister’s effort marks a reversal of sorts on procurement, as India has the legacy of supplying medicines to the world.
“Besides this, in India too, some of the licensee partners seem to have entered into further contracts to make the product,” says an industry insider, adding there are more than a handful of such companies.
Recently, Sun Pharma was in the news when a Maharashtra politician said he had approached the company to make Remdesivir. Sun has a “loan licence” agreement with Syngene to make the product, priced at ₹2,450 for a 100 mg vial.
Other companies also making Remdesivir, despite not being direct licensees of Gilead, including BDR Pharma and Sovereign Pharma for Cipla, Taj Pharma and Bruck Pharma. In fact, Bruck recently hit the headlines when its consignment of Remdesivir to Maharashtra ran into a political storm, as the local police questioned a company official.