The Covid-portfolio of drug companies — including antivirals faviprivar and remdesivir, and others like tocilizumab — registered huge sales during the previous two waves, with favipiravir alone netting over Rs 350 crore sales in a month for Glenmark during April last year.
There is now a huge inventory of the antiviral molnupiravir in the market, with potential losses on account of the drug estimated at around Rs 500 crore, industry experts told TOI.
Anticipating a huge demand due to the rising caseload of the third wave, several drug companies manufactured as well as stockpiled substantial quantities. But the antiviral did not take off like the previously launched Covid drugs due to multiple reasons, with fewer doctors prescribing it citing serious safety concerns. Soon after the drug received regulatory approval late December, it failed to make it to ICMR’s National Task Force Covid-19 treatment protocol. Further, during the third wave, most Covid patients have not shown severe symptoms, as against the earlier two lethal waves. This could have had an adverse impact on its retail sales, experts added.
Interestingly, the antiviral pill is one of the most affordable among the Covid therapies, priced at around Rs 1,400 for the full course, and was launched by about 15 companies including Hetero, Sun Pharma, Mankind, Cipla, Natco, and Dr Reddy’s in early January. Hyderabad-based Hetero registered the highest sales of molnupiravir at Rs 14 crore, followed by Natco and Mankind Pharma (see graphic). Data from stockists indicate that Hetero also had the first-mover advantage in the retail market. Overall, the domestic pharma retail market grew by over 20% in January to touch nearly Rs 16,000 crore — a growth of 21% month-on-month, data culled from IQVIA said. “This has been a hazard of the pandemic. The industry prepares for the surge, but the demand may or may not be there. But in this case, the negativity regarding molnupiravir appeared once ICMR did not include it in the protocol,” an industry official said. The official added that the medicine has a shelf life of two years, so its expiry is not a problem as of now.
Further, the potential hit to the industry could be substantially more if the investment on raw materials and active pharmaceutical ingredients are taken into account. Huge stocks are understood to be lying at the chemist and stockist level, with a poor retail off-take. The oral antiviral is considered a potential game changer globally in Covid treatment as the other antiviral, remdesivir, is administered intravenously, and in hospital settings.