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Hyderabad: An anti-diabetes herbal drug that costs 5 per pill, developed by two Lucknow-based Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) laboratories, has been launched in parts of north India.

The drug, branded BGR-34, is a combination of natural extracts derived from four plant species mentioned in ancient Ayurveda texts. The drug available in the form of a 500 milligram (mg) pill is a twice-a-day treatment for patients suffering from type-2 diabetes.

The drug was jointly developed by two CSIR laboratories, the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) and Central Institute for Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP), and was licensed to Delhi-based Aimil Pharamaceuticals Pvt. Ltd for commercialization.

Aimil will pay royalty on the drug’s sales to CSIR.

BGR-34 was approved by AYUSH—the ministry that deals with traditional Indian medicine—after testing on 1,000 patients over a period of 18 months across five states—Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Karnataka—with 67% patients showing normal blood sugar levels within 3-4 days of drug usage.

The drug, to be taken as an add-on or adjuvant to existing diabetes treatment, helps in maintaining normal blood glucose levels, in addition to improving the immune system, releasing antioxidants and checking free radicals.

“The modern diabetic drugs are known for side-effects and toxicity while BGR-34 works by controlling blood sugar and limiting the harmful effects of other drugs," said A.K.S. Rawat, senior principal scientist at NBRI, in a telephone interview from Lucknow.

To be sure, BGR-34 isn’t the first herbal drug for diabetes to hit the market.

But it is different from existing herbal drugs as it is scientifically tested and made from four commonly available plant extracts like gurmar leaves which make it commercially viable. Gurmar, scientifically known as Gymnema sylvestre, is known to stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin.

Aimil Pharamaceuticals said the drug will be sold in Delhi and Himachal Pradesh to begin with, and later in the rest of the country. It has already been approved for sale in Delhi and Himachal Pradesh.

“We are planning to reach around 100,000 doctors through 800 medical representatives to explain the benefits of our drug," said Anil Kumar Sharma, vice president of Aimil Pharamaceuticals.

But endcrinologists are sceptical about the efficacy of herbal drugs.

“Herbal medicines are not cheap, we don’t know the long-term side-effects of these drugs, the mechanism of action; there is hardly any data available, and we hear these things from newspapers over reputed scientific journals," said Shyam Kalavalapalli, a Hyderabad-based endocrinologist.

Contrary to the claims of no side-effects, herbal medicines were found to have high concentrations of heavy metals in many studies, Kalavalapalli said.

Diabetes is a non-communicable disease affecting close to 382 million people around the world. India alone accounts for over 65 million cases, according to data from the International Diabetes Federation.

The number of people with diabetes is expected to rise to 592 million globally with 109 million in India by 2035, Belgium-based International Diabetes Federation estimates. Type-2 diabetes is the most prevalent form of diabetes, accounting for 85-95% of the cases.

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