ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani pharmaceutical company will start to manufacture coronavirus drug Remdesivir within two months, said Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza on Friday.
“American company Gilead has manufactured this drug and it has proven effective in treating coronavirus patients,” he said during a press conference. “It is said that the use of the drug has reduced the intensity of the coronavirus by 30% in American hospitals [where they were tested].”
Dr Mirza said that five companies in the world had been granted the license to manufacture the drug. “Among the five companies [granted the license to manufacture the drug] one of them is a Pakistani company,” he said, referring to it as a “breakthrough news”.
He said that the medicine will be available for COVID-19 patients in Pakistan after it is registered within six to eight weeks and manufactured in the country.
“It will not only be available for patients in Pakistan but the plan is to export this drug to 127 countries,” he said. “Pakistan will be among three countries in the world to produce and export this to 127 countries. This is a big breakthrough and this is big news for coronavirus patients in Pakistan, who are increasing by the day and are expected to increase more.”
Ferozsons Laboratories Limited CEO Osman Khalid Waheed said that it would be the company’s aim to sell the drug at the least cost.
Adviser to the Prime Minister for Commerce, Textile and Investment Abdul Razzak Dawood said that it was a proud moment for Pakistan and the country’s pharmaceutical industry that a Pakistani company had been made the licensee of the coronavirus drug.
He said that it was the government’s aim to diversify exports and that included pharmaceuticals. “It is not only good news for the people of Pakistan but for countries around the world,” he said.
US-based firm Gilead signed non-exclusive voluntary licensing agreements with five generic pharmaceutical manufacturers based in South Asia including Ferozsons Laboratories of Pakistan to further expand the supply of remdesivir.
“The agreements allow the companies – Cipla Ltd., Ferozsons Laboratories, Hetero Labs Ltd., Jubilant Lifesciences and Mylan – to manufacture Remdesivir for distribution in 127 countries,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday.
The countries consist of nearly all low-income and lower-middle income countries, as well as several upper-middle- and high-income countries that face significant obstacles to healthcare access.
“Under the licensing agreements, the companies have a right to receive a technology transfer of the Gilead manufacturing process for Remdesivir to enable them to scale up production more quickly. The licensees also set their own prices for the generic product they produce,” it said.
“The licenses are royalty-free until the World Health Organization declares the end of the Public Health Emergency of International Concern regarding COVID-19, or until a pharmaceutical product other than Remdesivir or a vaccine is approved to treat or prevent COVID-19, whichever is earlier.”
Separately, in a notice to the Pakistan Stocks Exchange, Ferozsons Laboratories informed that its listed subsidiary BF Biosciences Limited (BFBL) has signed an agreement with Gilead Sciences Inc for manufacturing and selling remdesivir.
Top US epidemiologists had earlier said that coronavirus patients who took the antiviral remdesivir recovered about 30% faster than those on a placebo, hailing the drug’s “clear-cut” benefit in treating the virus.
The finding represented the first time any medication has been shown to improve outcomes against the COVID-19 illness, which has claimed more than 220,000 lives globally and ground the world economy to a halt.
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which oversaw the trial, had said that patients on the drug made by Gilead Sciences had a 31% faster time to recovery than those on a placebo.
“Specifically, the median time to recovery was 11 days for patients treated with remdesivir compared with 15 days for those who received placebo,” it had said.
For Anthony Fauci, who leads the NIAID and has been one of the government’s point people during the crisis, “the data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery.”
“Although a 31% improvement doesn’t seem like a knockout 100 percent, it is a very important proof of concept because what it has proven is that a drug can block this virus,” he had told reporters at the White House.
The results had suggested that people who were on the drug were less likely to die, although the difference was small. The mortality rate was 8% for the group receiving remdesivir versus 11.6% for the placebo group.
The trial began on February 21 and involved 1,063 people across 68 locations in the United States, Europe and Asia.
Neither the patients nor their physicians were aware of which group they belonged to, in order to eliminate unconscious bias.