Indians Bought 1.2 Cr ‘Controversial’ anti-Covid Molnupiravir Pills for Rs 50 Cr in First Month of Launch

Despite concerns over the safety of anti-Covid drug molnupiravir, Indians have purchased around 1.2 crore pills worth Rs 50 crore within the first month of its launch, data shows.

According to the latest information from health research firm IQVIA, molnupiravir has registered a turnover of Rs 46.5 crore with Hetero’s Movfor registering the highest sales in terms of revenue and JB Chemicals’ Molnumax in terms of maximum units sold.

The first oral anti-Covid drug, molnupiravir, was approved in the last week of December by the country’s apex health regulator Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI).

Thirteen Indian pharmaceutical companies, including Torrent, Cipla, Sun Pharma, Dr Reddy’s, Natco, Mylan, Hetero, and Optimus were given the clearances to manufacture molnupiravir, which is being developed by US-based biotechnology company Ridgeback Biotherapeutics in collaboration with American pharma giant Merck.

The hype

The drug was touted as the magic bullet and a game changer because the studies showed that it could cut the risk of hospitalisation and death by a third among those infected by the coronavirus.

The data shows that in January, more than 5.6 lakh units of the drug have been sold across India. Out of these, some brands contain strips of 10 capsules whereas others contain strips of 40 capsules. As per the estimates, 1.2 crore capsules have been sold in the past month.

According to a senior official from a Mumbai-based pharma company, which manufactures molnupiravir, “It usually takes a long time for a molecule to hit the turnover of Rs 40 crore. However, the drug was launched in the middle of the third wave and hence, managed to garner decent revenue in the first month, itself.”

However, according to an industry veteran who represents a pharma lobby group, the momentum will not continue further. “The first-month sales show its hype but the fizz will soon get over,” he said while adding that “it looks difficult that the drug would survive in the long run considering the emerging concerns around its safety.”

Why is the drug controversial?

On January 5, in a weekly press briefing, ICMR director-general Dr Balram Bhargava said that the drug has major safety concerns and it can cause teratogenicity and mutagenicity.

Teratogenicity means the capability of a medicine to cause foetal abnormalities or disturb the formation of foetus or an embryo when taken by pregnant women, consciously or unconsciously. Mutagenicity means causing permanent changes in the genetic materials.

“Contraception has to be maintained for 3 months after taking the medicine, both for males and females. The child born with the influence of a teratogenic drug can be problematic. The drug can also cause damage to muscles and cartilage,” Bhargava added.

Cartilage is the slippery gel-like substance that coats our bones to help them in smooth movement without causing any friction resulting in acute pain.

The conflict of opinion between the country’s apex medical research body ICMR and drug regulator DCGI has divided the medical fraternity over the use of the antiviral pill molnupiravir.

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