Eskayef’s Covid pill hits market
Eskayef Pharmaceuticals yesterday rolled out the world's first oral anti-Covid drug Molnupiravir after the drug administration gave emergency production and marketing authorisation of the pill that is said to halve the rate of hospitalisations and deaths in high-risk Covid-19 patients.
Called Monuvir, the tablet, which costs Tk 50, is available in all drug stores and hospitals all over the country, according to Mohammad Mujahidul Islam, executive director of Eskayef's marketing and sales.
Developed by American pharmaceuticals companies Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, the pills are designed to be taken as soon as possible after a positive coronavirus test and within five days of the onset of symptoms -- a time when the virus is replicating rapidly and the immune system has not yet mounted a defence.
Patients will take four capsules twice a day for five days, so the full course would cost Tk 2,000.
The treatment, which is based on a molecule first studied at Emory University as a treatment for influenza, targets an enzyme that the coronavirus uses to make copies of itself, introducing errors into its genetic code.
In so doing, molnupiravir prevents the virus from replicating, so keeping the viral load low in the body and reducing the severity of the disease.
Merck said that approach should make the treatment equally effective against new variants of the virus as it evolves in the future.
Eskayef got the formulation for the molnupiravir from Medicines Patent Pool, a United Nations-backed non-profit that works to make medical treatment and technologies globally accessible.
Following concerns that poor countries could be shut out of access to the medicine, much as they have been for vaccines, in October, Merck, Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and Emory University -- which, coincidentally, is the alma mater of Eskayef chief Simeen Rahman's two sons -- granted a royalty-free licence for the pill to Medicines Patent Pool.
The Medicines Patent Pool has deep experience in working with a network of global drugmakers that can meet high-quality standards, including those required for the World Health Organisation prequalification.
The deal allows the drug to be made and sold cheaply in 105 developing nations, with no fee required from the sublicensing company.
Generic drug makers in developing countries are expected to market the drug for as little as $20 per treatment (a five-day course), compared to the $712 per course that the US government has agreed to pay for its initial purchase.
So far, Eskayef has received requests from Cambodia, Somalia and Nigeria for the antiviral pill manufactured at its state-of-the-art plant approved by the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (UK MHRA).
Eskayef, which exports medicines to 65 countries, has applied to the Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA) for permission to export Monuvir, Islam told The Daily Star yesterday.
"I thank and congratulate the company for marketing the world-standard anti-Covid drug very fast," said Md Nazmul Islam, director of Communicable Diseases Control at Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), at the launch ceremony of Monuvir.
On November 4, the UK became the first country to authorise the use of molnupiravir.
He went on to urge the 31-year-old drugmaker to ensure that the price of the drug stays within the affordability of the common people.
"Our initiative is not only for business but also to leave a positive impact on humanity and mankind," said Simeen Rahman, the managing director and chief executive officer of Eskayef.
With the launch of Monuvir, the people of Bangladesh and across the world are now getting an oral medication to fight against the deadly Covid-19, she said, adding that Eskayef would be bringing out all possible medicines to snuff out the pandemic.
Last year, Eskayef was among the first drug makers in the world to roll out antiviral remdesivir, a drug that had generated intense interest as a treatment for Covid-19, and had exported it to 43 countries.
The drug will be a game-changer as there is no established anti-Covid drug, said Mohammad Robed Amin, line director of Non-Communicable Disease Control at DGHS, while expressing his surprise at the pace of its roll out by Eskayef, a concern of Transcom.
"Introduction of this drug by Eskayef is remarkable because we do not know whether there will be another wave of Covid-19. In this circumstance, if people can take medicine at home -- it is great," he added.
Meanwhile, the DGDA yesterday issued production and marketing authorisation for the pills to three other pharmaceutical companies: Beximco, Square and Renata.
Beximco also announced the launch of the drug under the brand name "Emorivir".
Six other companies were waiting to get the nod, according to Md. Salah Uddin, director of DGDA.