Kerala’s move to cash in on hydroxychloroquine demand hits roadblock

Price of key ingredient hydroxychloroquine sulfat increases by over 1,000%; truckers also reluctant to bring the ingredient from North India fearing quarantine when they return

Published: 14th April 2020 06:31 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th April 2020 06:31 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The attempt of Kerala State Drugs and Pharmaceuticals (KSDP), state’s lone public sector drug manufacturer, to cash in on the export market for hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), an old and inexpensive drug used to treat malaria, which is now used to treat Covid patients, ran into rough weather after the price of its key ingredient went over the roof. 

Before the Covid outbreak, the key ingredient, hydroxychloroquine sulfat, was available for Rs 6,000 per kg. Now, it costs between Rs 65,000 and Rs 70,000 per kg, over a thousand per cent increase.S Syamala, KSDP managing director, told TNIE that the company has the production capacity of one crore tablets per day and has a licence to manufacture HCQ. 

“What prevents the company from taking up bulk production of HCQ is the sudden jump in the price of sulfat. At present, there is a huge export market for HCQ, but producing bulk quantity without taking note of the fluctuating market can be a liability.” “When KSDP took up the matter with ingredient suppliers in North India, the logistics also proved to be a hindrance as truckers are reluctant to take a trip to Kerala fearing quarantine when they return to their state. The state government explored the possibility of producing the drug here, but KSDP intimated it about the industrial difficulties it is facing,” she said.
Though the state has explored the possibility of producing HCQ domestically, it has enough stock of HCQ at present. 

Ravi S Menon, Drugs Controller, Kerala, said the state has a stock of around 22 lakh HCQ tablets, enough to meet the state’s demand at present. Since the situation is under control, there is no need to go for an urgent procurement, he said. The state has also given a contract for producing 15 crore paracetamol tablets to KSDP, he said. 

KSDP, which has an institutional capacity to produce 185 crore tablets per day, has also informed the government that it can produce different combinations of paracetamol on demand by the government.India recently relaxed a ban on exports of paracetamol and HCQ, both used in Covid-19 therapies, and placed them in the licensed category after US President Donald Trump threatened New Delhi with retaliation if it rejected his country’s demand for the supply of HCQ. However, the medical fraternity and researchers are divided over the efficacy of the drug, used to treat malaria and auto-immune diseases, in combating Covid-19.


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