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Should We Celebrate? Experts on the Efficacy of India’s Approved COVID-19 Drugs

The government has approved two anti-viral drugs. While Favipiravir is for those with mild to moderate symptoms of coronavirus, Remdesivir is for patients on oxygen support.

Should We Celebrate? Experts on the Efficacy of India’s Approved COVID-19 Drugs

As doctors around the world continue to work towards finding a definite cure for COVID-19, two drugs, Favipiravir and Remdesivir, are showing promising results for the treatment of the disease. 

While Glenmark Pharmaceuticals has launched generic version of Favipiravir under the brand name FabiFlu, Cipla and Hetero Labs have introduced generic versions of Remdesivir, a drug meant specifically for a COVID-19 patient on oxygen support, under the brand names Cipremi and Covifor respectively.

The drugs, which have been approved by the Drug Controller General of India, come after months of research and testing to find a cure for the novel coronavirus. 

The price of prescription-based FabiFlu will be approximately Rs 103 per tablet (200 mg) and a strip of 34 tablets will cost Rs 3,500. Covifor is likely to come in 100 mg vials (injectable) which have to be compulsorily taken in a hospital under doctor’s supervision. 

Speaking to PTI, Vamsi Krishna Bandi, the MD of Hetero Group of Companies said that the price range of the drug will be between Rs 5,000-6,000 per dose.

Medical Experts Weigh In

Although the drugs have been approved by the concerned government body, many experts have raised concerns on its efficacy, and have urged caution vis-a-vis their ‘game-changer’ label. 

“It is not as if all those taking these drugs will recover. It has been found that they help reduce viral load but are not game-changers. But yes, it is a positive development as it is better to have something in hand than nothing. There is also a psychological impact that something is being given which could have some benefit,” Dr Vikas Maurya, Director, Department of Pulmonology and Sleep Disorders, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh told PTI

The Better India spoke to Dr Rommel Tickoo, Associate Director-Internal Medicine, Max Healthcare to get a better insight about Favipiravir and Remdesivir. 

On Favipiravir, he said that the repurposed drug has been used to treat diseases like Ebola and Influenza in the past, and is currently being evaluated in several clinical trials globally for the treatment of the Coronavirus. 

The Indian government has approved its emergency restricted use in mild to moderate COVID-19 cases. A patient must sign a consent form before using it. 

“As far as the Coronavirus goes, whatever evidence there is, is based on unpublished studies from countries like Russia, UAE and China. So, the drug seems to be promising based on anecdotal experience. Most patients cleared the virus on the fourth day and 91 per cent had improved respiratory status. Only after the data from trials have been published in a peer-review journal, can we swear by its safety and efficacy,” he says. 

Highlighting the benefits of Favipiravir, Dr Tickoo further adds, “It’s a drug that could be helpful in mild cases. It is known to prevent viral replication and reduce the risk of progression of the disease thereby cutting down on the need of hospitalisation. One advantage is that it is an oral tablet that is not very expensive and can be taken at home. But it’s not advised for pregnant women.” 

Meanwhile, Dr Manoj Goel, Director, Pulmonology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, is a little more sceptical. In an interview with FIT Quint, he said,  “There are several issues here. It’s an experimental drug for which we don’t have much evidence. If you also look at the recommended dosage, it amounts to too many tablets over the course of 14 days. And most importantly, the section of infected people it is being advised for — those with mild or moderate illness — have a high chance of recovery even otherwise.”

Remdesivir and its Effectiveness

Remdesivir was originally discovered by Gilead Sciences, USA, to treat Hepatitis C, and then  Ebola. Currently, it is authorised for emergency use in India for the treatment of suspected or laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 among adults and children hospitalised with severe symptoms. 

As per a Hindustan Times report, Cipla aims to commercialise Remdesivir through its own facilities and partnered sites. It will also be supplied by the government and open market channels.

For Remdesivir, Dr Tickoo says there is not enough data to back the claim that it can cure a COVID-19 patient. 

“In April, the US-based National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases had tested it and said it reduces the recovery time from 15 days to 11 but does not completely cure the patient. The report also underlined that there was no reduction in mortality rate recorded. There are various studies on this drug but all inconclusive.” 

As pointed out by most health experts, the two drugs (restricted emergency use) have very limited proof or research done that can prove their effectiveness.

It is advisable to consult your physician before investing an amount in purchasing these drugs. Another crucial point to note here is to not indulge in panic buying in emergency situations. It is best to follow the general protocol cited by concerned practitioners. 

(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)

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