India Says Can Ramp Up Production Of Hydroxychloroquine To Meet Demand
The biggest producer of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug touted as "game-changer" in the fight against coronavirus, has the capacity to quickly ramp up production to meet local and export demand.
On Tuesday, days after adding hydroxychloroquine to the list of active pharmaceutical ingredients that cannot be exported, India lifted the ban after U.S. President Donald Trump said his country could "retaliate" if it did not release stocks of the drug.
"The government has withdrawn the restrictions on 12 products and its formulations,” Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance's Secretary General Sudarshan Jain said. “Various scenarios are being assessed and it will be the endeavour to meet both the domestic demand and export obligation for paracetamol and hydroxychloroquine.”
India manufactures 70 percent of the world's supply of hydroxychloroquine, Jain said, adding that the country has the capacity to quickly ramp up the output of the drug. The API used to manufacture HCQ comes from China and supplies so far have been steady.
The objective is to minimise speculative buying and hoarding in these trying times and ensure balance in the distribution for patients and segments who need them, he said.
HCQ As Covid-19 Drug
Hydroxychloroquine is very similar to chloroquine, one of the oldest and best-known anti-malarial drugs, but with lesser side effects. It can be bought over the counter in India and is fairly inexpensive. But its purchase and use was severely restricted as it is being selectively used for Covid-19 treatment due to its antiviral properties.
Indian Council of Medical Research has recommended hydroxychloroquine, or HCQ, to be used as preventive medication for Covid-19 patients in the high-risk group.
It has also recommended the use of the drug for healthcare workers involved in the treatment of the disease and for asymptomatic household contacts of laboratory-confirmed patients.
Each Covid-19 patient reportedly needs a 14-tablet course.
Biggest Producer, Largest Exporter
India at present produces 40 tonnes, or 20 crore tablets of 200 mg each, of HCQ every month. Ipca Laboratories Ltd., Zydus Cadila and Wallace Pharmaceuticals Ltd. are top pharma companies manufacturing the drug in India.
Jain said the production capacity is sufficient to meet the current demand and if the need arises, the companies are committed to ramping up production.
Recently, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had reportedly placed an order for around 10 crore tables of HCQ with Ipca laboratories and Zydus Cadila.
"India needs around 24 million tablets per year as on date for the three indications—malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis,” Ashok Kumar Madan, executive director at Indian Drug Manufacturers' Association had said.
India is also the largest exporter of the drug. Between April 2019 and January 2020, the country shipped HCQ API worth $1.22 billion. During the same period, exports of formulations made from hydroxychloroquine stood at $5.50 billion.
The drug is not manufactured in developed nations such as the U.S. because malaria is virtually non-existent there.