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Cipla plans to work on multiple drugs to treat coronavirus even as the company works out the finer details of its pact with Gilead Sciences Inc on the experimental antiviral drug remdesivir, the Indian pharmaceutical firm’s chief financial officer Kedar Upadhye told Mint in an interview.

“We are trying all avenues. We are attempting to come to the service of patients and try to see that which molecule is more effective. We are trying through all ways. I think we will attack covid-19 through multiple ways," Upadhye said.

In generics, there is a combination of zinc, hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin which are being explored in clinical trials, while the lopinavir-ritonavir anti-cancer combination, favipiravir are other generic drugs that are being looked at by Cipla, he said.

The Mumbai-based drug maker is already among the four companies with manufacturing plants in India—the other three being Mylan, Jubilant Life Sciences and Hetero Drugs—that have signed a pact with US-based Gilead for manufacturing of the patented drug remdesivir.

Gilead had last week signed voluntary licensing agreements with the four companies, as well as Pakistan-based Ferozsons Laboratories, allowing them to manufacture intravenous drug remdesivir for distribution in 127 countries, including India, on a royalty-free basis until a new drug or vaccine is developed against coronavirus.

Upadhye said that the five companies are currently chalking out the details of the pact, including decisions on manufacturing facilities, means for transfer of technology and methods to reduce the time taken to produce the drug.

Cipla is also the exclusive seller of Actemra, which is the branded form of tocilizumab, in India. While the drug is used as an immunosuppressive drug, mainly for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, it is now also being used to treat covid-19 on an experimental basis in some hospitals in India and globally.

“Cipla is the sole agent of Roche's anti-inflammatory drug Actemra in India, which can be used in patients with severe lung problems. It is one of the possible treatment options being explored for covid-19 in addition to remdesivir, favipiravir, and lopinavir and ritonavir. The drug (Actemra) is currently undergoing clinical trials worldwide," Upadhye said.

On 30 April, the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) had announced that it had would transfer a convenient and cost-effective process to make the broad-spectrum antiviral favipiravir that it developed to Cipla, along with significant quantities of active pharmaceutical ingredients.

While Cipla has approached the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) for approval for launching favipiravir in India, it will also conduct a suitable limited trial before marketing the product as ‘Ciplenza’, as per a release by the government institute.

Being a broad-spectrum antiviral, favipiravir is also under trial as suitable and cost-effective treatment for covid-19, with Cipla’s rival Glenmark Pharmaceuticals already conducting its own clinical trial.

“Actually we have multiple drugs undergoing trials for covid-19. So even if Actemra shows positive data, we will have to look at what other drugs are also showing. There are many moving parts here but these are opportunities. Cipla is the only company which has multiple options already with them and they are in a better position than any other company," Vishal Manchanda, an analyst with Nirmal Bang Institutional Equities, told Mint.

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