MUMBAI: Zydus Cadila, one of the two largest manufacturers of key Covid drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), has ramped up its production by nearly 10X to 30 metric tonnes (15 crore tablets of 200mg) per month in view of the huge spike in demand expected due to rising cases of Covid-19. The company with over Rs 13,000-crore revenue is helping the government to build a stockpile of 10 crore dosages of the drug, Zydus group chairman Pankaj Patel said.
He added that there are enough stocks in the country and, if need be, it can be scaled up to even 50mt (25 crore tablets). Significantly, the Ahmedabad-based company’s accelerated research for a vaccine on Covid-19 has entered the animal-testing stage. If the results are successful, the company is hopeful of its launch by January next year.
“This is not the time to make money,” Patel said. He added, “We will be supplying the drug to ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) at a price even lower than the government-regulated price — at a little over Rs 3 per tablet.” ICMR recently advised the use of HCQ for prevention among high-risk categories — healthcare workers and relatives of confirmed patients.
The drug HCQ shot into the limelight in March after US President Donald Trump touted it as a potential treatment for Covid-19, which was followed by several countries approving its restricted use in coronavirus emergencies and for certain categories of patients. On Tuesday, the government partially eased the export ban on the drug, reportedly after a US demand, which also reflected in Cadila Healthcare’s stock hitting the upper circuit and closing nearly 14% higher at Rs 313 on the BSE.
Also read: Govt issues licences to import antibody kits
Main producers of HCQ — mostly used for arthritis and lupus — include Zydus and IPCA Laboratories, with a majority of the drug exported to the US. Amid the surge in demand globally, a shortage of the generic drug in the US has been reported. In India, the demand was not much till now, at only around one to two tonnes, and used mainly for rheumatoid arthritis patients.
Going forward, the company does not expect any production constraints on finished formulation as it also manufactures key intermediates as well as the raw materials for the drug. The company will also supply 5 crore tablets to states. After “taking care of the country’s demand, we can help other countries who need the drug”, Patel said. Input prices of the drug have suddenly skyrocketed by 5-8X, with HCQ disappearing from retail shelves as people stock up on it. Zydus, however, has not increased prices.
Elaborating on the vaccine, he said an accelerated research programme has been initiated with multiple teams in India and Europe. The vaccine is currently in the animal-testing stage, and if results are successful, it should enter clinical studies by the second half of this financial year.