Uzbekistan cough syrup deaths| Marion Biotech’s licence cancelled

DCGI tells States to ensure other drug manufacturers do not buy raw materials from Marion Biotech’s supplier; 22 out of 33 samples of the firm’s cough syrup were found to be adulterated or spurious

March 22, 2023 10:49 pm | Updated March 23, 2023 02:10 am IST - NEW DELHI

Logo of Marion Biotech, a healthcare and pharmaceutical company is seen on a gate outside their office in Noida, India, December 29, 2022.

Logo of Marion Biotech, a healthcare and pharmaceutical company is seen on a gate outside their office in Noida, India, December 29, 2022. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The Uttar Pradesh Ministry of Food and Drug Safety has cancelled the drug license of Noida-based Marion Biotech Pvt Ltd after 18 children died in Uzbekistan, last year, allegedly after consuming cough syrup manufactured in India. “Marion Biotech Company’s license has been cancelled by the State License Authority,” a senior State health official said on Wednesday.

The decision to cancel the license was taken unanimously by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation and the State health regulator.

Toxic adulteration

According to a letter written by Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) Rajeev Raghuvanshi to alert State licensing authorities, 22 out of 33 samples of Marion Biotech’s cough syrup have been found to be adulterated with ethylene glycol, a substance linked to the Uzbek deaths. 

The letter, dated March 7, states that during the course of the investigation, a total of 33 samples were picked up by the drugs inspector, out of which 22 samples were declared as ‘not of standard quality’. The 22 samples fell under the category of adulterated or spurious drugs

Supplier blacklisted

The DCGI also directed State drug regulators to ensure that other local manufacturers do not procure raw material — propylene glycol — from a Maya Chemtech India, a Delhi-based firm that supplied the ingredient to Noida-based Marion Biotech.

“It is further informed that M/s Maya Chemtech India Pvt. Ltd Delhi, was mainly the supplier of propylene glycol which has been used in the impugned batches. In view of the above, you are requested to issue directions to all manufacturers in your jurisdiction not to use propylene glycol supplied by M/s Maya Chemtech,” said the letter. “Accordingly, you are requested to instruct your enforcement officials to keep strict vigil on the matter and take stringent action as per the provisions of the said Act and rules against the offenders in public interest,” it added.

Poisonous swap

As propylene glycol is an expensive substance, it is believed that companies sometimes mix it with inexpensive diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol for sweetening purposes. Both are highly toxic, colourless and viscous liquids.

In December 2022, India launched an inquiry against the Noida-based drugs manufacturer after the deaths of 18 children in Uzbekistan were linked to the consumption of the syrup manufactured by the firm.

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