Despite Ranbaxy setback, Indian cos’ drug research stays on course

Despite Ranbaxy setback, Indian cos’ drug research stays on course

Mumbai: The global antimalarial market, which has not seen a new drug in some time, will most likely get a new medicine from India in the coming years, with at least five new drug candidates actively under development here.

The development follows a major setback for the country’s largest drug maker, Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd, when the sponsor of supposedly promising antimalarial drug research, the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), backed out after reviewing trial results. Four other projects initiated by local peers, meanwhile, are progressing fast and are at various stages of development.

Important among these projects are the three new molecules currently under trial by Mumbai-based Ipca Laboratories Ltd, in collaboration with the Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI) and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore.

Another one, by Chandigarh-based Unimark Pharma Ltd, is in partnership with MMV.

Though Ipca Labs, currently the largest player in the Rs200 crore Indian antimalarial market by sales, has a fourth drug in development, it is a new dosage enhanced version of a known drug.

The five new drugs are different chemical forms of the Chinese herb artemisinin and its novel combinations.

Ipca managing director Premchand Godha said the firm’s two drug candidates, licensed from Lucknow-based CDRI, are currently in phase I and preclinical studies. “These drugs have shown satisfactory results in all the trials so far and are expected to come to the market in another three to four years," he said.

The other drug candidate, developed by IISc, is a combination of two chemical compounds—curcumin and artesunate.

“This drug is also in the preclinical stage at present," Godha added.

Since malaria tends to affect the poor, and is not prevalent in the developed world, no multinational drug maker has attempted to develop new drugs for its treatment. Quinines, the only chemical drug for the treatment of malaria, was developed at least 70 years ago. The only innovation after that was the entry of the herbal artemisinin into the market some years ago.

Alarmingly, in the absence of other treatments, parasites have started developing resistance to existing medicines, resulting in one of the most serious health-care threats in the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) now recommends treatment with multiple antibacterial and antiparasite drugs in combination. WHO formed MMV—a dedicated agency to encourage drug development for the treatmentof malaria.

Ranbaxy, which had initiated an antimalarial drug project to develop another synthetic form of artemisinin, in partnership with WHO, had said that it was one of the key projects in its total research portfolio. After the loss of funding for the project, Ranbaxy has said it will take the research forward on its own. Ranbaxy managing director Malvinder Mohan Singh recently said the company will be able to launch the drug by 2011, though the WHO-backed venture is not very confident of this claim.

CDRI is the only drug research institution very active in antimalarial drug research in India. It has various projects in this direction. S.K. Puri, deputy director and scientist-in-charge of the parasitology division at CDRI, said the institution has several projects under way, including drug combinations. He said the two molecules licensed to Ipca Labs are the most promising chemical entities for the treatment of malaria from its fold.