Govt to Import 2 cr More Pills to Treat H1N1
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11 August 2009
New Delhi, India
With about 70% of its stock used up, the government will now procure two crore more pills of oseltamivir–the generic version of Swiss firm Roche’s Tamiflu that is used to treat the H1N1 virus–and may allow the drug to be sold in the open market within a fortnight.
The contingency measures that the health ministry is putting in place in light of the seven deaths caused by the virus in one week include roping in private hospitals and laboratories for testing and treating patients.
The government is also planning to fast–track the launch of a vaccine to squeeze the clinical trial period to around two months.
Three domestic companies, Bharat Biotech, Panacea Biotech and Serum Institute, which were earlier allowed to import strains of H1N1 to work on a new vaccine, will now be able to do a Phase 1 trial in 14 days instead of a month.
“We are planning to club phase II and III so that the vaccine can be launched at the earliest,” a top government official close to the development told ET. The government has also asked Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to conduct the trials with the companies, so that the trials can be conducted on a larger population. The Indian companies are likely to discover the vaccine by December 2010, after which the clinical trials will follow.
The government is planning to double the number of medical kits to test the virus by importing an additional 22,000 kits.
India’s pharma industry welcomed the move to make Tamiflu available in the open market stressing their capability to make enough pills to meet any eventuality. Cipla, Ranbaxy, Hetero and Natco are expected to be in the fray to bag the government’s contract, besides the marketers of the original Tamiflu, Roche.
Globally, such drugs are made available at government hospitals and dispensaries but, according to Alok Mukhopadhyay of Voluntary Health Association of India, this model cannot be replicated in India because its private sector makes up for 70% of the country’s health needs.
As of now, the government has restricted the drug only to government hospitals and dispensaries, fearing that availability at retail market could lead to hoarding. More importantly, there is a fear that consumers may buy and consume the drug in panic which may make the medicine ineffective. “Resistance can be developed even for medicines meant for diseases such as TB and Malaria, why are those drug not under government control?,” said Cipla joint MD Amar Lulla.
The government has also decided to identify around 35 bureaucrats of the rank of additional secretary and joint secretary from several ministries who will be posted to various states to work with state government to identify private hospitals and private testing laboratories with required facilities.“We have finalised the guidelines for allowing private labs to conduct tests,” Health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said. The government is also considering to install more thermal imagers at international airports.
Several key issues related to government’s strategy to manage public health and check the spread of this virus in the country, were discussed in the high level meeting that went on for almost three hours in the health ministry in New Delhi. A separate website dedicated to swine flu will be launched by the government by Wednesday.