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    U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co (MRK.N) joined Gilead Sciences (GILD.O)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 molnupiravir.

    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 helpoverburdened hospitals struggling with a severe shortage of life-saving oxygen anddrugs.

    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”. read more

    In addition, India expects to secure the biggest chunk of the 60 million AstraZeneca (AZN.L) COVID-19 vaccine doses that the United States will share globally, two Indian government sources told Reuters. read more

    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 manufacturers.

    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 it. read more

    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 (CIPL.NS) and Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd (SUN.NS), will give the companies license to supply molnupiravir to India and more than 100 low- and middle-income countries after the treatment is authorized. read more

    Merck also said it would donate more than $5 million worth of oxygen-production equipment, masks, hand sanitizers and financial aid to India.

    A lab technician holds the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment drug “Remdesivir” at Eva Pharma Facility in Cairo, Egypt June 25, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

    India’s Syngene International Ltd (SYNN.NS) aims to supply half-a-million vials of COVID-19 drug remdesivir through its local distribution partners next month, its top executive said, as the country faces shortages of the medicine amid a second wave.

    “At the moment we are operating at near maximum capacity (to produce remdesivir),” Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Hunt told Reuters on Wednesday.

    “I’d expect the volume of drug that we are supplying into the Indian market to step up as we get into May,” he added.

    Hunt did not provide details on how many vials the company has already delivered.

    Syngene, majority owned by biopharmaceutical company Biocon Ltd (BION.NS), is one of the seven Indian companies that have licensed remdesivir from U.S.-based Gilead Sciences Inc (GILD.O). The seven companies together have a total installed capacity of about 3.9 million units per month.

    “Across all seven manufacturers, (Syngene is) probably one of the smallest by capacity, but you are seeing everybody working round the clock…to boost the supply,” Hunt said.

    This follows Gilead’s announcement on Monday that it would donate a minimum of 450,000 vials of the drug to the Indian government.

    The country’s death toll from the pandemic crossed the 200,000 mark on Wednesday, worsened by shortages of hospital beds and medical oxygen.

    Remdesivir is approved in India for restricted emergency use to treat severe COVID-19 cases, despite the World Health Organisation advising against using the drug due to doubts about its effectiveness in treating the infection. Indian health officials have said it is only to be used in a hospital setting for patients who need oxygen.

    Syngene, headquartered in the southern technology hub of Bengaluru, offers contract research and manufacturing to global drugmakers. Its clients include U.S. pharma majors Amgen Inc (AMGN.O) and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co (BMY.N).

    The company late on Tuesday reported a 33.6% jump in consolidated profit to 1.61 billion rupees ($21.63 million) for the fourth-quarter ended March 31.

    ($1 = 74.4180 Indian rupees).

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