Minister of Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan has said India is part of World Health Organisation's (WHO) solidarity trials to combat coronavirus and has received 1,000 doses of Remdesivir, which will be tested on some patients across states.
In an exclusive interview with CNN-News18, Vardhan said: "It’s an important subject that is being discussed at the highest level in the government. Scientists at ICMR and CSIR are also deliberating upon this issue. Right now, we are in a position to participate in the WHO solidarity trial and have got some 1,000-odd doses given by the WHO. We will be able to use them for clinical trials in some patients in some states in India."
Pharma giant Gilead’s antiviral drug Remdesivir has won US regulatory approval for emergency use in patients that are severely ill from Covid-19. The FDA's approval for administering the drug to treat Covid-19 patients was based on preliminary results from a controlled, randomised trial by the US National Institutes of Health involving 1,063 severely ill cases. The study showed that patients dosed with Remdesivir had a 31 per cent faster recovery time than those given a placebo.
Gilead Sciences has said that its antiviral drug will be available to patients as early as this week.
Earlier, in an exclusive interaction with Moneycontrol, a Gilead spokesperson had said that the company is open to collaborate with governments, pharmaceutical companies, including from India, and is even considering proposals of patent-pooling to expand capacity and provide access to Remdesivir for Covid-19 patients across the world.
Asked about the controversy around the import of faulty testing kits from China, the health minister said: "ICMR and the empowered committee have followed the procedure for procurement of kits and they had given the contract to the lowest bidder. Unfortunately, kits coming from China were ineffective. As soon as we came to know about it, we stopped using them. Also, we have not paid anything to China for these kits."
Last month, India cancelled orders for about half-a-million coronavirus rapid testing kits from China after they were found to be faulty.
The senior BJP leader also spoke about India being "large-hearted" when it came to supplying the required medicines to the world.
After the Narendra Modi government lifted the ban on export of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) following US President Donald Trump’s implicit warning of ‘retaliation’, the Centre had assured the public that it had “more than enough” stock to meet local demand for the drug.
"We have always been very large-hearted. There is a strong push from the government to support the industry. We have been supplying HCQs to 97 countries of the world now, while saving adequate amount for ourselves. We are supplying Paracetamol to 103 countries of the world. Government in its exit plan for the lockdown is supporting and handholding the industry to improve production of various drugs because large numbers of drugs are exported to some of the less-developed countries from India," he said.
"India has done so well in the pharma sector. Our only drawback had been that we have been importing these APIs from countries like China. But now, the endeavour of the government is to attain self-sufficiency in APIs also. And that’s a significant reform that is taking place in this industry right at this moment," he added.
On the avoidable trade-off between risking the spread of infection and relaxing the lockdown to revive the economy, he said, "Our government’s thinking is very clear. It has been elaborated by the prime minister himself when he said that ‘jaan’ (life) and ‘jahan’ (material wellbeing) both are important. For me, as health minister, the foremost duty is to save each and every life in India. We are into a dynamic strategy to mitigate Covid-19, but you have seen yourself we are now opening up the lockdown. And that has been done to make sure that we are able to take care of the economy and help those people who have suffered because of the lockdown."