Remdesivir sold at high prices in Mumbai black market; some doctors suggest cheaper alternatives

Mumbai: A black market has sprung up in Mumbai for the antiviral Remdesivir prescribed for the treatment of Covid-19, with some doctors pointing out that the drug is being sold illegally at as much as five times its price due to a shortage. Several private hospitals have been prescribing the drug and asking relatives of patients to procure it, said some doctors who did not want to come on record, adding that it was useful only for patients with mild-to-moderately severe conditions. Remdesivir costs Rs 14,000-28,000 a vial in the black market, compared to the Rs 5,400 charged by Hetero Labs and Cipla that are selling the drug in India under licence from US-based Gilead Sciences. A course comprises five vials.“I am not sure why there is a case for Remdesivir, and why are hospitals pushing relatives of so many patients to buy this drug,” said a doctor at a private hospital in Mumbai who spoke to ET on condition of anonymity. “This is not a life-saving drug, there are generic alternatives that are cheaper,” the doctor claimed, adding that it should be investigated whether it was being pushed indiscriminately. The doctor said she knew of a person who was selling a vial at Rs 18,000 each, and still managed to sell out 250 vials within a day. ET tried to get in touch with Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope on this, but he was unavailable for comment.Meanwhile, the Drug Controller General of India has written to all states and union territories asking them to keep a strict vigil on the sale of Remdesivir, after it received complaints of black marketing.Dr Suleman Merchant, a former dean of the municipal corporation-run Sion Hospital in Mumbai, said he had seen excessive prescription of Remdesivir for patients who might not even need it.“I would like to believe that it is happening due to peer pressure among doctors or because the patients’ relatives might be pushing the doctors to use the drug because of the hype being created. I have been suggesting Ivermectin + Doxycycline combination, or Dexamethasone which are cheaper, " Dr Merchant said.approved for restricted emergency use in India, was initially a drug created to combat Hepatitis C and then tested unsuccessfully against Ebola. It began to be viewed favourably by US health experts after preliminary data from a trial by U.S. National Institutes of Health found it effective in reducing the recovery time of some of the Covid-19 patients. The European Union has given it conditional approval for Covid-19 therapy.