April 26 (Reuters) - U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co
joined Gilead Sciences on Tuesday in lending support to
India as the world's second-most populous country scrambles to
address drug shortages and bring a raging new wave of COVID-19
cases under control.
Gilead said it would give India at least 450,000 vials of
its antiviral drug remdesivir, while Merck said it was
partnering with five Indian generic drugmakers to expand
production and access to its experimental COVID-19 drug
With the death toll from COVID-19 racing towards the
200,000-mark in India, medical supplies from across the world
are being flown into the country to help overburdened hospitals
struggling with a severe shortage of life-saving oxygen and
Nations including Britain, Germany and the United States
have pledged support, while the World Health Organization said
it was working to deliver 4,000 oxygen concentrators, calling
the situation in India "beyond heartbreaking".
In addition, India expects to secure the biggest chunk of
the 60 million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that
the United States will share globally, two Indian government
sources told Reuters.
Gilead said on Monday it would help boost the production of
remdesivir in India, where the drug is approved for restricted
emergency use to treat severe COVID-19 cases, by offering
technical assistance to its manufacturing partners.
Seven Indian companies have licensed the drug from Gilead,
with a total installed capacity of about 3.9 million units per
month. Gilead said the companies were scaling up their batch
sizes and adding new manufacturing facilities and local contract
Hospitals are facing supply shortages of remdesivir due to
indiscriminate use. The drug is being sold at over 10 times its
listed price in the black market, stoking fears of hoarding as
people queue up outside clinics and millions take to social
media to secure supplies.
Earlier this month, India banned the export of the drug and
the active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) used to make
The WHO in November issued a conditional recommendation
against the use of remdesivir in hospitalised patients due to
doubts about its effectiveness in treating COVID-19, but India
has continued to use it.
A senior Indian government health official said last week
that remdesivir is only for those patients who need oxygen. "I
am appealing that the hype over this medicine should be
decreased, and it should be used in a rational manner," Vinod
Kumar Paul said.
Merck said on Tuesday its partnership with Indian
drugmakers, including Cipla Ltd and Sun Pharmaceutical
Industries Ltd, will give the companies license to
supply molnupiravir to India and more than 100 low- and
middle-income countries after the treatment is authorized.
Merck also said it would donate more than $5 million worth
of oxygen-production equipment, masks, hand sanitizers and
financial aid to India.
(Reporting by Trisha Roy in Bengaluru and Sayantani Ghosh in
Singapore; Additional reporting by Anuron Mitra, Manojna
Madipattla and Ankur Banerjee; Editing by Arun Koyyur and