'The Centre is planning to procure five million vials of Remdesivir ahead of the third wave. What’s better is that this time, the government is paying us in advance,' said a senior executive of a Mumbai-based pharma player which makes Remdesivir.
Sohini Das reports.
Ahead of the anticipated third wave, India is trying to build a buffer stock or inventory of essential Covid-19 medicines like Remdesivir and Favipiravir, besides common drugs and supplements like Paracetamol, antibiotics, and vitamins.
According to industry sources, the plan is to have a 30-day stock for key drugs like Remdesivir, a shortage of which was witnessed during the first two waves.
“The Centre is planning to procure five million vials of Remdesivir ahead of the third wave. What’s better is that this time, the government is paying us in advance,” said a senior executive of a Mumbai-based pharma player which makes Remdesivir.
“During the second wave when we were told to scale up our capacities by two-threefold, we had asked what would happen to the excess capacities in the future unless there was an assurance of offtake. This time, the government has not only placed orders for large volumes but is also paying us in advance.”
The senior executive said India now has the capacity to make around 10 million Remdesivir vials a month.
The drug had seen prices jump manifold in the black market, and patients were scrambling to procure their stock of medicines during the second wave.
A patient typically needs six vials.
Sharvil Patel, managing director of Cadila Healthcare, another manufacturer of Remdesivir, said the company has a 3-month inventory of the drug, and confirmed that the Centre was looking at buying and stocking this injectable medicine.
“India is trying to create an inventory that would last around 30 days. If a wave hits, manufacturers can produce fresh batches within that time,” Patel said.
According to a government official: “Usually, a batch of Remdesivir takes 15 days to make. This includes sterility testing requirements. If a manufacturer is using a certain type of sterile equipment in manufacturing, this testing requirement can be bypassed for now. This can halve the time required to make one batch.”
Meanwhile, state governments like Rajasthan and Gujarat, too, are trying to pile up the stock of other essential medicines.
Siddharth Mahajan, health secretary of Rajasthan, said more than Remdesivir, Favipiravir and Tocilizumab, people need paracetamol, antibiotics and vitamins.
“During the second wave, we distributed such medicine packs to 1.8 million people. This time, we plan to do the same and have already started placing orders for these,” he added.
Such procurements are being funded by state governments also from the Emergency Covid-19 Response Package (ECRP) set up by the Centre.
The health ministry recently reviewed the preparedness of state governments in relation to tackling the third wave case surge, and asked them to do a quick gap analysis for infrastructure.
“Procurement of drugs for effective Covid-19 management is an essential part of the ECRP, and the guidelines on procurement and buffer stocks have already been shared with the states,” said a senior government official.
States have to do their own assessment based on stocks and costs involved, and come up with procurement strategies, he added.
Sudarshan Jain, secretary-general of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, a body that represents the big pharma in India, said: “The Rs 23,000 crore ECRP is a very welcome move, and since the health ministry and the department of pharmaceuticals now come under the same minister, work is happening at a fast clip.”