Indian drugmakers to produce Merck's experimental Covid drug

Multinational pharmaceutical firm's deal on expanding access to molnupiravir is among latest developments in India's grim battle with Covid

Indian drugmakers to produce Merck's experimental Covid drug
India continues to fight a grim Covid battle with hospitals running out of oxygen and beds. Photo: Reuters.

(ATF) The future course of the Covid outbreak depends on how densely populated countries contain the virus, the World Health Organization says. Small wonder then that India – with more than 3 million active cases, over 200,000 deaths, and daily additions of over 360,000 – is drawing global attention for its fight against the dreaded disease.

The latest developments:

# The multinational drug company Merck said on Tuesday it has partnered with five Indian generic drugmakers to expand production and access to its experimental Covid drug, molnupiravir, in a bid to help address the raging new wave. The five include Cipla and Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, two of the biggest drug companies. 

# The partnership will give the companies license to supply the drug to India and more than 100 low- and middle-income countries following approvals or emergency authorisation by local regulatory agencies.

# On Tuesday, following President Joe Biden’s declaration that the US must help, India said it expects to secure the biggest chunk of 60 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses that the US will share globally.

# The White House said earlier that 10 million doses could be cleared for export “in coming weeks” and the rest by June. It has not revealed potential beneficiaries, but the sources said India could gain the most.

# India will receive a first batch of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine against Covid-19 on May 1, the head of Russia's sovereign wealth fund, told Reuters. However, he did not specify how many vaccines would be sent. Kirill Dmitriev, said he hoped Russian supplies would help India navigate its way out of the pandemic.

# Drugmaker Gilead Sciences on Monday said it will give India at least 450,000 vials of its antiviral drug, remdesivir, and help boost production in the country.

# Vital medical supplies began to reach India on Tuesday as hospitals starved of life-saving oxygen and beds turned away coronavirus patients, and a surge in infections pushed the death toll higher and higher. 

# A shipment from Britain, including 100 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators, arrived in the capital New Delhi on Tuesday although Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain had no surplus vaccine doses to spare.

# France is sending eight large oxygen-generating plants this week while Ireland, Germany and Australia are dispatching oxygen concentrators and ventilators, according to India's foreign ministry.

Covaxin, India's home-grown Covid vaccine, has been found to neutralise the 617 variant of the deadly virus, White House chief medical adviser and America's top pandemic expert Anthony Fauci said in Washington on Tuesday. "This is something where we're still gaining data on a daily basis. But the most recent data, was looking at convalescent Sera of Covid-19 cases and people who received the vaccine used in India, the Covaxin. It was found to neutralise the 617 variants," he said. "So, despite the real difficulty that we're seeing in India, vaccination could be a very, very important antidote against this," Fauci said.

# According to the WHO, the B.1.617 variant of Covid first found in India, which has contributed to the surge in coronavirus cases in India, has been found in at least 17 countries.

# The WHO said on Tuesday it was stepping up efforts to help India as hospitals there struggled to cope with a huge surge in coronavirus cases, including bringing in oxygen and other essential supplies.

# Meanwhile, in the capital, New Delhi, carparks have been converted to crematoriums and the soaring body count has sparked a shortage of wood for funeral pyres. Desperate relatives of the sick are crowding outside hospitals and pharmacies in search of treatment or medicines, often in vain.

# New Delhi is now planning to import 50,000 tonnes of oxygen and has set up a special train service called the "Oxygen Express" to transport cylinders to hard-hit states.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP.

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WHO. Global Help to India Indian Covid Strain Covaxin Fauci Gilead Merck B617 Strain