Indian schools cautiously reopen even as COVID-19 warnings mount

DHAKA: The world’s first generic version of Pfizer’s new COVID-19 treatment was already available in pharmacies in Bangladesh on Saturday, two days after the country’s drug regulator cleared its emergency use.

Pfizer’s new drug, Paxlovid, is a combined oral therapy for people with mild to moderate symptoms who are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19. In a clinical trial, a five-day course of treatment reduced the risk of hospitalization and death from coronavirus by 89%. The United States Food and Drug Administration cleared it for emergency use on December 22.

Two large Bangladeshi pharmaceutical companies, Beximco Pharma and Eskayef, started work on the generic version of the drug last year, after Pfizer’s first trials showed its high potential to treat COVID-19.

On Thursday, the country’s Directorate General of Medicines Administration granted emergency use authorization for the two drugs. The treatment of Beximco Pharma entered pharmacies in the capital under the name of Bexovid, while that of Eskayef under the name of Paxovir.

“As soon as we observed the success of Pfizer’s combination drug for the treatment of COVID-19 in early 2021, we began the product development process,” Beximco COO told Arab News. , Rabbur Reza.

“We started supplying it to the main pharmacies in Dhaka on Thursday evening. Gradually, we will start supplying pharmacies across the country. ”

Paxovir will need a few more days to enter the market, Eskayef Marketing Director Dr Mohammad Mujahidul Islam said.

“It’s not a drug that is commonly used. Thus, we will only deliver it to strategic points such as designated COVID-19 hospitals and certain selected pharmacies across the country. It will take a week to reach the market, ”he told Arab News.

Pfizer’s treatment is protected by patents, but countries like Bangladesh, which are classified by the UN as least developed countries, are not bound by them and may make their own generic versions of more affordable drugs.

As Pfizer has announced, the US federal government will purchase 10 million courses of Paxlovid for $ 5.3 billion, bringing the cost of the treatment to $ 530. Its generic version available in Bangladesh is much cheaper.

A five-day course of Bexovid from Beximco costs around $ 190 at drugstores in Dhaka. Eskayef’s Paxovir will cost around $ 176, according to Islam. “We will try to reduce the price gradually,” he said.

In some pharmacies in Dhaka it immediately sold out.

Sohag Babu, salesperson at Lazz Pharma, one of the capital’s largest drugstore chains, said the store sold its supplies as soon as they received them: “It just hit the market ago. two days. We immediately received inquiries from customers.

While Bangladesh is not currently experiencing a wave of COVID-19 infections, a new viral wave is expected to hit the country in the coming months. The availability of the new drug gives hope that the country would be able to save more people from the disease.

“If we are faced with an increase in the rate of infections, which is a fear for the coming months of March-April, we will be able to deal with the situation effectively,” said Professor Benazir Ahmed, former director of the Center for Disease Control, told Arab News. “This will reduce the number of hospitalizations and the stay of patients in hospitals.”

But the drugs, although cheaper than the original treatment, may still be out of the reach of ordinary Bangladeshis.

Ahmed said the drug regulator and government could play a role here by making them available to the poor as well.

“Our DGDA can also take into account the pricing issues of new COVID-19 drugs so that they also remain affordable for the poor,” he said.

“To ease the burden on the poor, the government can source these drugs from manufacturers and deliver them to designated COVID-19 hospitals. ”

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