Remdesivir proves pharma strength | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 08, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 06:05 AM, March 08, 2021

Remdesivir proves pharma strength

Amidst the perfect storm stirred up by Covid-19, a drug used to treat a wide range of viral infections emerged as a silver lining for treatment seekers. 

Proving effective in the treatment of severe Covid-19 cases, the drug taking the generic term remdesivir had countries all over scrambling after it.

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Bangladesh was no exception and soon after the pandemic was declared in March last year local pharmaceutical companies started manufacturing it.

Remdesivir's potential to help Covid-19 patients is based on its ability to disable the mechanism by which certain viruses, including the novel coronavirus, replicate themselves and potentially overwhelm their host's immune system.

"(Being able to manufacture the drug) was a big achievement for local pharmaceuticals and the country as the number of casualties fell sharply after it was approved for use," said Prof ABM Faruque of pharmacy at the University of Dhaka.

Being a least developed country, Bangladesh was granted access to the patent to manufacture remdesivir for public use.

Local pharmaceutical companies were then able to utilise their capabilities in making the drug in the shortest possible time thanks to government support, Faruque added.

By the end of fiscal 2020-21, the pharmaceutical sector could fetch up to Tk 700 crore exporting remdesivir, according to industry insiders.

Currently Eskayef (SK-F), Beacon, Incepta, Beximco, Healthcare and Square are producing the drug, which was first developed by US biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences.

Remdesivir had proved ineffective in treating those afflicted with SARS or Ebola.

But it later resurfaced as a viable treatment for coronavirus infections after experiments carried out by Gilead indicated that the condition of patients who received the drug showed notable signs of improvement.

On a more local scale, Maj Gen Md Azizul Islam, consultant physician general of Bangladesh Armed Forces, said the results on the use of remdesivir for Covid-19 treatment has been encouraging.

"We started using remdesivir mostly in the third week of May last year at Armed Forces Hospitals," Islam said.

Although patients with more risk factors, such as diabetes, still had a comparatively higher mortality rate, the overall loss of life decreased significantly due to the advent of remdesivir and other supportive treatment methods.

The use of remdesivir was also found to generate symptomatic and prognostic improvements, he added.

Eskayef was the first in the world to successfully produce the drug, said its director for marketing and sales, Mohammad Mujahidul Islam.

Not only patients in Bangladesh but also those in 32 countries were saved by the drug.

"Remdesivir emerged as a light in the dark during the pandemic both at home and abroad," Islam said.

He went on to say that the successful manufacture of remdesivir helped enhance Bangladesh's image in the global arena.

Beacon exports remdesivir under the brand "Pandovir".

"Local drug makers fast decided to manufacture the drug to save the lives of Covid-19 patients," said Monjurul Alam, director for global business at Beacon.

Other than remdesivir, local pharmaceutical companies have also manufactured a variety of drugs related with Covid-19 treatment to help the country in its ongoing fight against the pandemic.

According to Alam, the companies took this initiative not just to do business but also to save lives amidst the global crisis.

"It was possible to control the spread of Covid-19 as the companies, government and doctors worked together to fight against the pandemic," he said.     

After catering to local demand, Beacon shipped more than Tk 130 crore worth of the product to 21 destinations while 18 other countries, including some in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, are currently in negotiations for supplies.

While the Covid-19 fallout has had an adverse effect on most industries, it came as a blessing for pharmaceuticals as local drug makers used it to demonstrate their efficiency and quality to the international market.

"It is really a benefit for the country's image to be the first to provide remdesivir globally," Alam added.

Rabbur Reza, chief operating officer of Beximco, earlier told The Daily Star that his company was exporting remdesivir to 10 countries, including some in Latin America and the Middle East.

In June Beximco exported the drug under the brand "Bemsivir" to Pakistan following a request from the Pakistan high commission in Dhaka.

As of March 6, the number of total Covid-19 infections in Bangladesh stood at 549,724. So far, 501,966 patients (91.31 percent) have recovered while 8,451 died.

The health authorities have so far tested 4,132,113 samples.

Bangladesh reported its first case of coronavirus on March 8 last year and the first death on March 18. 

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