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Indian drug companies start off a price war on experimental Covid-19 drug

MUMBAI: The price of favipiravir has crashed more than 40% in a month and is expected to fall further over the next week, as stiff competition is emerging in the market for supplying the experimental drug indicated for Covid-19 patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms.The Drug Controller General of India has this week given approval to BDR Pharmaceuticals, Optimus Pharma and Cipla to manufacture the raw materials and finished product of the antiviral developed by Japan’s Toyama Chemical. This has opened the doors for other pharma companies to procure the drug from these three manufacturers and market under their own brand names.Over the next few weeks, close to 10 drug companies including Abbott, Lupin, Micro Labs, Mcleods Pharma, Cipla, Strides Pharma and Dr Reddy’s Laboratories are expected to launch their own brands of favipiravir, despite inconclusive evidence of its effectiveness.Currently the only company marketing favipiravir in India is Glenmark Pharmaceuticals. The Mumbai-based company launched the drug a month ago under the FabiFlu brand, at Rs 103 a tablet of 200 mg. Within a fortnight it cut the price to Rs 75, slashing the cost of one course of 34 tablets to Rs 2,550 from Rs 3,500. It had received flak for allegedly keeping the price of the drug high, making it inaccessible to the poor. The company said, in response to a notice from the drug controller, that its price was the lowest compared with other Covid-19 therapies in India.Meanwhile, Pune-based Brinton Pharma has announced that it would sell its brand at Rs 59 per tablet, or Rs 590 for a strip of 10 tablets.There are a few companies that see the scope to further cut the price, Optimus Pharma director for strategic business Prashanth Reddy told ET. Some are looking at launching the drug at as low as Rs 40 per tablet, he added.Though Optimus is a supplier of bulk drugs, the company is in talks with some state governments and hospitals to supply this antiviral directly.The price war comes as emerging evidence is taking the wind out of the effectiveness of the drug. A study by Fujita University released in early July said the effectiveness of the drug remained inconclusive. In India, the regulator has given approval to market this drug for only four months."It is possible that companies want to get rid of their stock before further evidence emerges that shows the drug is not effective", said an analyst from a leading brokerage firm in Mumbai, who did not wish to be named.Japan’s Fujifilm, which owns Toyama Chemical, is planning to conduct further trials to prove the efficacy of the drug along with its Indian partner, Dr Reddys.Glenmark had said that based on the Phase-3 trial, the use of the drug demonstrated “statistically significant faster time to clinical improvement in mild to moderate Covid-19 patients”.The indicated dosage of the drug is 3,600 mg (1,800 mg twice) on the first day and 1,600 mg (800 mg twice) from day two to a maximum of 14 days.