Covid-19 spreading and Indian experts saying they will take at least 1.5 years to develop a vaccine, the government has asked major pharma companies that manufacture HIV combination drugs Lopinavir and Ritonavir (which seem to be working against Covid-19) to ramp up their production and keep stock ready for emergency use, people in the know told ET.
At a meeting held with the manufacturers on Wednesday, a committee of experts constituted by the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) asked companies such as Cipla, Mylan, Aurobindo and Hetero, among others, to evaluate supply chain and keep enough stock ready for India.
Lopinavir and Ritonavir are antiretrovirals (ARVs) that block the ability of HIV to bind with healthy cells and reproduce, and are often used in combination to treat HIV.
“India exports these antiretrovirals mostly to African countries. Manufacturers were called as we wanted to ensure that in case of any emergency, there shouldn’t be any shortage in the country,” said a government official. There are no plans to restrict export as of now.
India has already used the Lopinavir/ Ritonavir combination, a second-line HIV medication, to treat an Italian couple who had tested positive for Covid-19 infection, in Jaipur last month. “It was used on compassionate grounds. The medication was given to them after taking their consent,” said Dr Balram Bhargava, DG, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). The couple was administered the combination after they developed severe respiratory problems. “The antiretroviral combination was given to them for 14 days and they are much better now,” said another government official.
As reported by ET earlier, ICMR had received approval from the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) to allow the lopinavir/ritonavir combination — approved for AIDS treatment — to be used if Covid-19 infections turn into a public health emergency in India.
There is currently no known treatment for Covid-19.
An expert committee was constituted by ICMR which is deliberating on the new treatment protocol for dealing with Covid-19. “There are no large studies done so far on the treatment of Covid-19. However, as an alternative, ICMR has recommend these drugs for treatment,” said a senior health ministry official.
A randomised controlled clinical trial is underway in China to test the anti-HIV drugs’ efficacy, as per a study published on January 24 in The Lancet. “Results are likely to come in a few weeks,” said Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist, WHO.