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Lupin eyes deals with foreign players for covid drugs, jabs

Lupin CEO Vinita Gupta said the firm is in discussions with both executives at the headquarters of some US-based developers as well as their Indian arms.Premium
Lupin CEO Vinita Gupta said the firm is in discussions with both executives at the headquarters of some US-based developers as well as their Indian arms.

Lupin Ltd is working on acquiring licences and partnerships for various covid-19 drugs and vaccines, chief executive officer Vinita Gupta said, after the drug maker missed out on launching drugs in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic

Lupin Ltd is working on acquiring licences and partnerships for various covid-19 drugs and vaccines, chief executive officer Vinita Gupta said, after the drug maker missed out on launching drugs in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

The company is also exploring partnerships with Pfizer and Moderna for their covid-19 vaccines, Gupta said, though it is not close to any agreements in this respect yet. “Yes, we are definitely more active in the second wave, and that’s why you see that we got a voluntary licence from (Eli) Lilly for baricitinib. Likewise, there are others that we are pursuing right now across multiple therapeutics, including ‘mabs’," Gupta said, referring to monoclonal antibodies used to treat covid-19.

Examples of such ‘mabs’ include Roche’s tocilizumab and Biocon’s itolizumab used to treat cytokine storms in severe covid-19 patients, and Regeneron’s antibody cocktail of casirivimab and imdevimab, which recently was authorized in India to treat people with mild to moderate infections and are at high risk of hospitalization. However, Gupta did not disclose which ‘mabs’ the company is working on for getting a licence to manufacture.

Last month, Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) Corp. had signed a voluntary pact with five Indian companies—Cipla Ltd, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd, Emcure Pharmaceuticals Ltd, Hetero Labs Ltd and Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd—for the production of molnupiravir, an investigational oral antiviral agent. MSD, in collaboration with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, is currently conducting a phase 3 trial for the drug to treat mild to moderate covid-19 patients.

In terms of its covid-19 drug portfolio, while Lupin was not part of the initial five Indian companies to sign a voluntary licensing pact with Merck, Gupta said the company is in talks for a licence for molnupiravir and is also working on two other undisclosed products, including one inhalation product that is in development.

Final data from the Merck outpatient phase 3 portion of the study for molnupiravir is expected by October, with the earliest possible submission for an emergency use authorization (EUA) in the US expected in the second half of 2021, Merck has said.

Lupin, however, has not been able to make significant headway in partnering with foreign vaccine makers, despite being keen on distributing their covid-19 jabs, especially those based on messenger RNA, in India.

Gupta said Lupin is in discussions with both executives at the headquarters of some US-based developers as well as the Indian arm of the vaccine makers. The vaccines that Lupin is especially keen on licensing include mRNA jabs from Pfizer and Moderna.

About talks with Moderna, Gupta said, “We have reached out to them and they have informed us that they have plans. But we don’t know yet what those plans are."

Beyond the covid-19 portfolio, Lupin is also planning to launch a number of products, including generics of Brovana and Perforomist—both used to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), in the current financial year in its foreign markets like the US and Europe.

The company had also launched albuterol in the US in the previous financial year, which is now expected to ramp up significantly.

“Our team maximized the share within six months, and we are now up to 8% market share, and continuing to ramp up," Gupta said.

Lupin on Thursday said sales in North America were down 5% year-on-year at nearly 15 billion in January-March, but was up 4% quarter-on-quarter due to the ramp up in albuterol. Following the announcement, ICICI Securities in its report said it expects US business, which accounts for 40% of consolidated sales, of the company to gradually improve in the coming quarters with growing contribution from albuterol and from new launches.

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