After receiving several complaints of drug shortages, India’s drugs controller on Tuesday directed state authorities to ensure there is no black marketing or over-pricing of the antiviral drug remdesivir that it has allowed under emergency use authorization for severely ill patients of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
The Drugs Controller General India (DCGI) acted on a complaint by Local Circles, an independent community engagement and social media platform, which pointed to the problem of dugs shortage because of alleged black-marketing.
In a letter to state drug controllers, Drugs Controller General of India VG Somani said: “… this office has received a letter from M/s Local Circles, through ministry of health, raising concerns regarding black marketing and over pricing of the drug Remdesivir by certain unscrupulous persons.”
He added: “ In view of the above, you are requested to instruct your enforcement officials to keep strict vigil on the matter to prevent black-marketing and sale of the drug Remdesivir injection above maximum retail price.”
The state drugs authorities have been asked to take strict action against people who are found to be fleecing patients, and to stop its sale immediately if anyone is found to be selling it above the maximum retail price. Over the past few days, people and hospitals have been finding it hard to procure the drug.
“In our hospital we are well-stocked because we had procured it in bulk initially. However, the drug is in short supply in market and many hospitals have also approached us recently to buy some doses from us. The medicine is not sold in our Out Patient Department pharmacy but is given directly to admitted patients,” said a person in a prominent private hospital in Delhi, who did not wish to be named.
On Monday, Sachin Taparia, chairman and CEO, Local Circles, wrote to the authorities, saying, “… over the last 72 hours, many posts and comments were received from citizens across India… about the black marketing of the drug Remdesivir.”
The complaint said a vial that costs about Rs.5,500 was being sold for anywhere between ₹15,000 and 60,000. “…various medical shops have been telling buyers that the medicine is in short supply but can be made available if they are ready to pay a premium…,” he complained.
On June 1, the central drugs controller had permitted US pharma company Gilead Sciences Inc., which has the patent for it, to import and market remdesivir in India under emergency use authorization.
The emergency authorisation allows products to be used for treatment without full data on their safety and efficacy, which has to be still submitted as trials continue. Written informed consent needs to be taken from those to be given the medicine.
The drugs controller has granted permission for manufacturing and sale of the drug to three Indian companies– Cipla Limited, Hetero Drugs Limited, and Mylan Laboratories Limited so far.
On June 14, the health ministry added the drug as part of investigational therapies given to severely ill Covid-19 patients.