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Updated: August 17, 2009 02:32 IST

‘No shortfall in Tamiflu supplies’

RAMNATH SUBBU
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Fully geared: An employee of Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, checking the preparation of antiviral drug capsules of Tamiflu at a company’s unit. Photo (file): AFP
Fully geared: An employee of Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, checking the preparation of antiviral drug capsules of Tamiflu at a company’s unit. Photo (file): AFP

Centre erred in publicly announcing its requirement in terms of dosages

The panic that gripped the public, particularly in major cities, over the spread of swine flu (H1N1 virus) has prompted the Centre to stockpile an additional 20 million capsules of the generic Tamiflu (Oseltamivir phosphate).

Domestic pharma manufacturers such as Cipla, Ranbaxy, Hetero Drugs, Natco Pharma and Strides Arcolab have come forward to replenish the government supplies.

Swiss drug major Roche, which holds the marketing rights for Tamiflu developed by U.S. drug maker Gilead, has also thrown its hat in the ring.

Hyderabad-based Hetero Drugs bagged the first order from the government in May for the supply of nine million doses. It supplied the first lot at Rs. 39 per dosage. The company has a manufacturing agreement with Roche to make the low cost version.

Hetero Drugs Director (Marketing) Srinivasa Reddy said “We will probably know about the government order next week. Capacity is not a constraint and we can supply 20 million doses in 10 days, and, if required, go up to 100 million capsules (needed to treat 10 million patients).”

Two months ago, the government asked companies making Oseltamivir to stockpile adequate raw material (mainly shikimic acid) in case of emergency.

Shikimic acid, a plant extract, is the active pharma ingredient used in Oseltamivir. However, China is almost the single source of supply since it is extracted from the fruit of the star anise tree, which grows abundantly there. Large quantities of this product have been already booked by multinationals.

According to Secretary General of Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance D. G. Shah, India erred in publicly announcing its requirement in terms of dosages and “this has led to the price of shikimic acid spiralling.”

Mr. Reddy said the price of shikimic acid had gone up 150 per cent in the last three months adding that Hetero had no problem as it had the licence and get supplies.

Natco Pharma, a relatively smaller player, said companies had stocked enough quantity. Company Director and Chief Finance Officer Bhaskara Narayana said his company had around two lakh capsules and tablets of Tamiflu. Shikimic acid had a shelf-life of 5-6 years and on conversion 2-3 years, he said.

Initially, the government restricted the drug to government hospitals and dispensaries, fearing hoarding and misuse at the retail level. However, the assistance of private hospitals had been sought to screen and treat patients as the pandemic spread.

Mr. Narayana said that with the geographical spread of the virus, the medicine should be made available in the open market. Mr. Reddy felt that price control was not possible because the cost of the imported raw material was not fixed but was sure the government would come out with a mechanism to prevent hoarding.

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