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Price war rages as pharma firms despatch Covid-19 antiviral pill

Oral Covid pill Molnupiravir will hit retail stores this week as companies have started despatching the drug all over the country.

Meanwhile, a price war is on among several companies launching Merck’s antiviral drug.

After Mankind Pharma said it would price its Molnupiravir brand Molulife at Rs 35 per capsule, or Rs 1,400 for the full course of 40 capsules (eight capsules a day for five days), as the most “affordable brand” in the market, Hyderabad-based Dr Reddy’s Laboratories (DRL) on Tuesday launched the drug at the same price.

R C Juneja, chairman of Mankind Pharma, said for some drugs affordability, not profit, was the key.

“We wanted our drug to be affordable. When the chances of hospitalisation reduce, the burden of such expenditure goes down for the needy,” Juneja told Business Standard, adding that Molulife would be dispatched first to cities like Delhi and Mumbai, where the cases of Covid were high. It will go to smaller centres thereafter.

A DRL spokesperson said the company would launch the “most affordably priced molnupiravir” capsule (200 mg) under the Molflu brand.

The country’s largest drug maker, Sun Pharma, has launched its brand Molxvir at Rs 38 per capsule, taking the treatment cost to Rs 1,520.

“We are launching a toll-free helpline to ensure the availability of Molxvir to doctors and patients,” a Sun Pharma spokesperson said.

Pune-based Emcure Group is launching molnupiravir capsules under the name Lizuvira, which will be marketed by its subsidiary Zuventus Pharma. Lizuvira will be priced at Rs 1,750 for the full course.

Cipla has priced its brand Cipmolnu at Rs 2,000 per course.

Hyderabad-based Hetero has launched its brand Movfor at Rs 2,490 for the 40-capsule course. Sources among those stocking the medicine said Aurobindo had done so at Rs 2,000.

While some brands like Molflu are expected to be available from early next week in pharmacies, stockists say they have started receiving dispatches of several brands.

“At the level of cost and freight agents, stocks arrived in the past few days. Several hundred packs have been forwarded to districts. For example, almost 40 of the 56 districts in Madhya Pradesh will receive stocks of molnupiravir in the next few days,” said Rajiv Singhal, general secretary of the All India Organization of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD), an umbrella association of more than 650,000 retail chemists in the country.

Singhal said more than 600 districts in the country would receive stocks within this week.

A senior executive at a Mumbai-based pharma firm said any brand priced below Rs 1,500 might have thin margins, but the huge volumes expected during the third wave were anticipated to more than make up for it.

Analysts say prices will go down once the third wave subsides.

Kunal Randeria, analyst with Edelweiss, said: “Favipiravir is no longer standard of care. Molnupiravir prices will not fall much from Rs 2,000 immediately as the demand is high. Once the demand recedes, there will be a price war. So it should remain at this level for now. Obviously government procurement will be at lower rates.”

Companies are ready to scale up production if demand rises. Juneja said his firm was getting the brand contract-manufactured, but was ready to meet high demand quickly.

Thirteen Indian companies got the nod from the drug regulator (Drug Controller General of India) on December 28 to manufacture and market oral antiviral drug Molnupiravir, developed by Merck and Ridgeback, for restricted use under emergency situations for those in the high-risk category.

The approval for Molnupiravir is significant because it can give affordable oral treatment for Covid. The drug targets the part of the virus called ribonucleic acid polymerase, which has not changed much even after mutations in the Omicron variant.

The drug inhibits a replication of the Sars-CoV-2 virus and has been approved in the UK and the US, and it has been recommended for adult patients who have at least one risk factor in developing a severe illness.

Earlier this year, DRL entered into a non-exclusive voluntary licensing agreement with Merck to manufacture Molnupiravir and supply it to India and more than 100 low- and middle-income countries.

In a first-of-its-kind collaboration in the Indian pharmaceutical industry, a DRL-led consortium, including Torrent Pharmaceuticals, Emcure Pharmaceuticals, Sun Pharma, and Cipla, has collaborated to sponsor, supervise, and monitor the phase III clinical trial in India, and presented its findings to the Subject Expert Committee.

Between March and April, these five companies had individually entered into non-exclusive voluntary licensing agreements with Merck Sharp Dohme (MSD) to manufacture and supply molnupiravir. Business Standard

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