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The Indian Drug Manufacturers’ Association (IDMA) on Wednesday urged the government to use provisions of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to issue compulsory licences to pharma firms to make drugs such as remdesivir that are used in the treatment of covid.

“WTO has also provided the provision of compulsory licensing just for tackling such an eventuality. Our government should not feel shy in invoking this in the interest of humanity and our citizens," IDMA said in a position paper on patent waivers.

The comments come on the back of recent shortages in the supply of remdesivir and tocilizumab, among other drugs, across hospitals in India following a surge in covid cases.

Remdesivir is manufactured in India by seven companies—Hetero Drugs, Cipla, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Zydus Cadila, Jubilant Life Sciences, Viatris and Syngene International—through a voluntary licence issued by Gilead Sciences. Sun Pharmaceutical Industries also makes the drug in partnership with Syngene.

Meanwhile, tocilizumab is imported from Roche and distributed in India by Cipla under the brand Actemra.

In its position paper, IDMA said that intellectual property rights need to be urgently waived off across the world for covid drugs to boost their production and ensure adequate supply during the pandemic.

“Global pharma companies owe at least this much to mankind," the industry body said.

However, in the case of vaccines, IDMA said simple waiving of patents will not be enough for better availability.

“What is more important is grant of voluntary licences by the patent holders to Indian companies with sufficient expertise in this field," it said, adding that other global vaccine makers need to follow the example set by AstraZeneca and Serum Institute of India and “similarly transfer technology to Indian companies against reasonable royalties".

India is currently facing a crunch in supply of covid vaccines as Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech International have been unable to meet the staggering demand for Covishield and Covaxin vaccines respectively, especially after the Centre opened up vaccination for all adults from just high priority groups—healthcare and other frontline workers and people above 45 years of age—last month.

Voluntary licences are given by patent holders to other manufacturers such as generic drugmakers to produce and market the drug in specific regions in lieu of royalty.

Besides remdesivir, Merck last month issued voluntary licences to five Indian companies—Cipla, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Emcure Pharmaceuticals, Hetero Labs and Sun Pharma—to manufacture and market its investigational oral drug molnupiravir, once it receives emergency authorization in India.

Compulsory licensing are issued by governments, under emergency situations, to allow generic drugmakers to produce a patented product without having to take permission from the patent holder.

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