A drug that physicians are now calling “life saving” to treat those critically ill with Covid-19 is adding to ballooning hospital bills for patients seeking care in private hospitals and also leaving physicians with the dilemma of administering the drug to those who can afford it, ET has learnt.
Tocilizumab by Roche pharma, marketed by Mumbai-based Cipla, is being used on Covid-19 patients who suffer from extreme immune system response towards the infection, called cytokine storm, leading to multi organ failure and eventually death. Tocilizumab in certain trial studies was shown to slow down the cytokine response in Covid-19 patients by modulating a protein called IL6.
In India, the drug sold under the brand name Actemra, is approved for the use in autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis and for six months treatment it costs Rs 2.5 lakh. For Covid-19 patients who are administered this drug, the cost is Rs 60,000 per dosage.
Private hospitals in Mumbai ET spoke to said most of them are administering this drug for Covid-19 patients who are in the ICU. “But since the cost is high, we are using this drug only on those patients who can afford it, there is also a shortage of this drug,” said an official from a private hospital. Leena Menghaney, a lawyer with Doctors Without Borders, told ET that such practices are leading to a discriminatory system right at the beginning of an epidemic. “This seems to be a classic case of profiteering by pharma companies and inequitable access of this drug,” Menghaney, said.
Shivkumar Utture, who heads the Mumbai chapter of the Indian Medical Association, said his organisation has received 40 doses of the drug from corporates to be given to public hospitals.
“This is an expensive drug and patients of public hospitals definitely cannot afford this, so we are depending on donations,” Utture told ET. The BMC on May 12 said it had used this drug on 40 patients and saw “encouraging results” in more than 30 patients