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The government on Sunday banned exports of the covid-19 drug Remdesivir after reports of shortages, hoarding and profiteering in Mumbai and several other cities in India.

Exports of Remdesivir injection and Remdesivir active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) were banned in anticipation of a spike in demand amid the second wave of infections. It will remain in force until there’s a let-up in the pandemic.

“India is witnessing a recent surge in covid cases. This has led to a sudden spike in demand for Remdesivir injection used in the treatment of covid patients. There is a potential of a further increase in this demand in the coming days," Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said. The drug regulator, too, asked states to stamp out black marketing in Remdesivir even as manufacturers Hetero Drugs and Zydus Cadila pledged to scale up production.

“It has been brought to the notice of the ministry of health and family welfare that states of Madhya Pradesh (Bhopal, Indore and Gwalior), Gujarat (Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot) and Maharashtra (Mumbai, Thane) are reporting a shortage of remdesivir injection," drugs controller general of India V.G. Somani wrote to state drug regulators.

He asked them to increase vigilance on overcharging and black marketing of the drug.

Following the letter, the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists wrote to its 940,000 member chemists and distributors to make the drug available to hospitalized patients and not hoard it.

Remdesivir is given to moderate and severe covid-19 patients in hospitals.

But most companies cut production from December to mid-March due to a drop in covid cases, according to an industry official. Now with cases rising again, scaling up production has become a challenge due to the lag in delivery of raw materials, the official said.

Seven Indian firms, including Hetero Drugs, Zydus Cadila, Cipla and Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, produce injectible Remdesivir under a licensing pact with Gilead Sciences. They have an installed capacity of about 3.88 million units per month. The government advised all domestic manufactures of Remdesivir to display on their website the details of their stockists and distributors to facilitate access to the drug.

“Drugs inspectors and other officers have been directed to verify stocks and check malpractices and also to take other effective actions to curb hoarding and black marketing. State health secretaries will review this with drug inspectors of respective states/UTs," the government said.

States, especially Maharashtra, have been holding meetings with companies asking them to scale up production, a person familiar with the talks said.

“We are scaling up production and will continue to offer patients the most economically priced Remdesivir," said a spokesperson for Zydus Cadila, which sells the drug under the Remdac brand for 899 a vial, the cheapest among Indian brands.

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