At the turn of the century, Cipla had jolted the global pharmaceutical industry with its offer to sell anti-AIDS drugs at a fraction of the price charged by multinational drug makers in Africa. Now the Indian pharmaceutical major is readying a stockpile of medicines to combat the deadly coronavirus.
Yusuf Khwaja Hamied, Chairman of Cipla, explains that two antiretroviral medications - lopinavir and ritonavir - are the protease inhibitors that are designed to block HIV viral replication. These drugs, which have been around for about 10 to 15 years and are off-patent, are now being repurposed to deal with coronavirus.
"The combination of lopinavir and ritonavir has been recommended for coronavirus, and Cipla makes this combination in India under the name Lopimune tablets and Lopimune granules for children," Hamied told Business Today. "We are now approaching the Indian government that in case of any emergency, we will rise to the occasion and help."
Hamied said he is already receiving inquiries from outside India. "I have already got a phone call from our partners in China who wanted to know if we would be in the position to supply the medicines if necessary," he said. "Our product is also approved in America and I might even get inquiries from America."
Availability, however, could be a sticking point. Hamied pointed out that the issue is not really about the ability to make Lopimune tablets, but it has more to do with the availability of raw materials because "some of it we make and some we buy." Moreover, because several drugs better at dealing with HIV have already hit the market, "the demand for these two drugs is not huge so there are no big stocks of these drugs available today," he said.
"We have enough raw material to make 10 to 12 million tablets and keep it ready for emergency use if the government so desires," Hamied said. He was quick to remind that there are companies in India that make similar combinations, so there is hope.
On the cost of Lopimune, Hamied said, "We are selling 60 tablets for Rs 2,000, which would work out to little over Rs 30 a tablet. For HIV patients, the recommended dose is two tablets a day."