First generic version of new Pfizer COVID-19 pill enters Bangladeshi pharmacies

Pfizer’s new drug, Paxlovid, is a combination oral treatment for people with mild to moderate symptoms who are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19. (Reuters/Illustration)
Pfizer’s new drug, Paxlovid, is a combination oral treatment for people with mild to moderate symptoms who are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19. (Reuters/Illustration)
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Updated 03 January 2022

First generic version of new Pfizer COVID-19 pill enters Bangladeshi pharmacies

Pfizer’s new drug, Paxlovid, is a combination oral treatment for people with mild to moderate symptoms who are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19. (Reuters/Illustration)
  • In trials, Paxlovid reduced the risk of COVID-19-related hospitalization and death by 89 percent
  • Pfizer’s treatment is protected by patents, but least-developed countries such as Bangladesh are not bound by them

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

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

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

On Thursday, the country’s Directorate General of Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization to both drugs. Beximco Pharma’s treatment entered pharmacies in the capital as Bexovid, while Eskayef’s as Paxovir. 

“As soon as we observed success with Pfizer’s combination drug for COVID-19 treatment early 2021, we commenced the product development process,” Beximco chief operating officer Rabbur Reza told Arab News.

“We started supplying (it) to leading pharmacies in Dhaka on Thursday evening. Gradually, we will commence supplies to pharmacies nationwide.” 

Paxovir will need a few more days to enter the market, Eskayef’s marketing director Dr. Mohammad Mujahidul Islam said.

“This is not a drug for common use. So, we will deliver it only to the strategic points such as COVID-19 designated hospitals and some selected drug stores across the country. It will take one week to reach the market,” he told Arab News.

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

As Pfizer has announced, the US federal government is going to buy 10 million courses of Paxlovid for $5.3 billion, putting the cost of the treatment at $530. Its generic version available in Bangladesh is far cheaper.

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

At some pharmacies in Dhaka it immediately sold out.

Sohag Babu, a salesman at Lazz Pharma, one of the largest drug chain shops in the capital, said the store had sold its supplies as soon as it received them: “It just came to the market two days ago. We immediately received queries from customers.” 

While Bangladesh is not experiencing a surge of COVID-19 infections now, a new viral wave is expected to hit the country in the next few months. The availability of the new drug raises hopes that the country would be able to save more people from the disease.

“If we face a surge in infections rate, which is a fear for next March-April, we will be able to handle the situation in an effective manner,” Prof. Dr. Benazir Ahmed, former director of the Center for Disease Control, told Arab News. “It 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 beyond the reach of common Bangladeshis.

Ahmed said the drug regulator and government could play a role here in making it available also for the poor.

“Our DGDA may also consider the price issues of the new COVID-19 drugs so that it remains within the affordability of the poor also,” he said. 

“To ease the burden on the poor, government may procure these drugs from the manufacturers and deliver it to the COVID-19 designated hospitals.” 


Syrian refugee puts medical skills to use in Ukraine

Syrian refugee puts medical skills to use in Ukraine
Updated 26 May 2022

Syrian refugee puts medical skills to use in Ukraine

Syrian refugee puts medical skills to use in Ukraine
  • UK-trained Dr. Tirej Brimo used hospital work leave to treat hundreds in Lviv
  • ‘War is like a nightmare you can’t wake up from while praying for a miracle that just doesn’t happen’

LONDON: A Syrian refugee who traveled to Britain almost a decade ago and trained as a doctor has provided volunteer medical treatment in Ukraine for war victims, The Independent reported on Wednesday.

In 2013, Dr. Tirej Brimo left Syria amid the country’s brutal conflict. He was in his final year of medical school. In 2017, he graduated as a doctor in London.

Five years later, Brimo, now an emergency doctor in Cambridge, put his skills to use in Ukraine.

In order to make the trip to the Ukraine-Poland border and the city of Lviv, Brimo used up seven weeks of his work leave.

“In Syria I ran away. I was a student and felt helpless. In Ukraine, I chose a different destiny. I chose to be there and stand up for what I believe in,” he said.

He helped launch a makeshift medical center in Lviv that treated hundreds of Ukrainian refugees as they fled eastward. 

Back in Cambridge after his trip, Brimo said: “At Lviv train station, the situation was horrid. Every day we got dozens of trains from eastern Ukraine — trains full of injured people, and trains full of refugees who just wanted to flee and leave everything behind.

“In my very first week, a paramedic and I saw 339 patients. It only took a few seconds into the consultation for these emotions to come out. They had been through a lot and they had seen a lot.

“Some of them lost their loved ones, some of them left everything behind, and some of them were so in shock that they were not aware of what was happening around them.”

The experience brought back painful memories for Brimo. “Sadly, the atrocities of war are similar. The horror in peoples’ faces, backpacks that have been filled in a rush, and children who have lost their spark, are some of the images that stay with me,” he said.

“War is like a nightmare you can’t wake up from while praying for a miracle that just doesn’t happen.

“As a doctor in the humanitarian world, our fight is different. We look after those wounded by all kinds of trauma, those who have been forgotten about, those who feel rejected by life and its atrocities.

“We hope that these few minutes of care will one day be remembered as a small light in our patients’ journey. Their journey to heal from all that happened.”

Brimo praised his fellow volunteers, saying: “In a clear message of resilience and rejection of war and its violence, we started our day with a smile and we ended our day with a prayer. A prayer that we hope one day will be heard.”


Cooperating with Saudi Arabia is ‘very important’ for Japan, says president of JICA  

Cooperating with Saudi Arabia is ‘very important’ for Japan, says president of JICA  
Updated 26 May 2022

Cooperating with Saudi Arabia is ‘very important’ for Japan, says president of JICA  

Cooperating with Saudi Arabia is ‘very important’ for Japan, says president of JICA  
  • Akihiko Tanaka says Japan will continue to contribute to economic reforms under Saudi Vision 2030
  • Japan is working with GCC countries to tackle COVID-19, climate change and geopolitical crises

DAVOS: The president of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency highlighted on Tuesday the significance of Saudi-Japanese cooperation, reiterating how Saudi Arabia has been, and will continue to be, a very important country for Japan.  

Stressing the importance of maintaining good relations with the Kingdom, Akihiko Tanaka, president of JICA, told Arab News at the 2022 World Economic Forum that Saudi Arabia is important for Japan “not just as a source of natural resources, but also as a key country in the Middle East.” 

Tanaka also acknowledged Saudi Arabia’s interest in “keeping collaborative relations, particularly in the area of technology advancement, standardization and future development.” 

Speaking about Saudi Vision 2030, Tanaka assured Arab News that Japan will continue to contribute to the economic reforms that are being promoted under the initiative.  

Tanaka explained that JICA has provided knowledge sharing and training for the dissemination of “Kaizen,” the promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises, and effective use of water resources in accordance with Saudi-Japan Vision 2030.  

Tokyo-based JICA is one of the world’s largest public development assistance institutions, established in 2003, with over 96 overseas offices. 

According to Tanaka, upcoming cooperation between JICA and Gulf Cooperation Council countries will focus on tackling the triple threat of COVID-19, climate change and geopolitical crises, including issues that originated with the Arab Spring, stalled peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel and the impact of Ukraine crisis on the world.  

“Our vision in working with Saudi Arabia is to create mutual benefit to realize a more sustainable world,” Tanaka said. “Our overall vision in JICA is to lead the world with trust, and so as a very important partner and a key actor in the Middle East, we would like to also maintain good and productive relations [based on] trust.” 

JICA has been cooperating with Saudi Arabia since 1975, and their focus, according to Tanaka, has been and will continue to be human resource development.   

Tanaka said that JICA has already established cooperation with Saudi Arabia in the fields of technical education, water resource development and treatment, and electricity development, adding that there were “many potential cooperation opportunities” between Saudi Arabia and Japan.  

 


Blasts in Kabul mosque, north Afghanistan, kill at least 14

Blasts in Kabul mosque, north Afghanistan, kill at least 14
Updated 25 May 2022

Blasts in Kabul mosque, north Afghanistan, kill at least 14

Blasts in Kabul mosque, north Afghanistan, kill at least 14
  • The Kabul Emergency Hospital said it received 22 victims of the mosque bombing, including five dead
  • All the victims in Mazar-e-Sharif were from the country's minority Shiite Muslims

ISLAMABAD: A series of explosions shook Afghanistan on Wednesday, the Taliban said, including a blast inside a mosque in the capital of Kabul that killed at least five worshippers and three bombings of minivans in the country’s north that killed nine passengers.
The Kabul Emergency Hospital said it received 22 victims of the mosque bombing, including five dead. There were no further details on the blast that struck the Hazrat Zakaria Mosque in the city’s central Police District 4, according to Khalid Zadran, a Taliban police spokesman in Kabul.
“The blast took place while people were inside the mosque for the evening prayers,” Zadran said, adding that they were waiting for an update.
The minivans were targeted in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif after explosive devices were placed inside the vehicles, according to Mohammad Asif Waziri, a Taliban-appointed spokesman in Balkh province. He said the explosions killed nine and wounded 15.
All the victims in Mazar-e-Sharif were from the country’s minority Shiite Muslims, according to a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to give details to the media.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the explosions, but they had the hallmarks of the regional affiliate of the Daesh group, known as Daesh in Khorasan Province, or Daesh-K.
The Daesh affiliate, which has been operating in Afghanistan since 2014, is seen as the greatest security challenge facing the country’s new Taliban rulers. Following their takeover when they seized power in Kabul and elsewhere in the country last August, the Taliban have launched a sweeping crackdown against the Daesh headquarters in eastern Afghanistan.


France charges 18-yr-old over Daesh attack plot: judicial source

France charges 18-yr-old over Daesh attack plot: judicial source
Updated 25 May 2022

France charges 18-yr-old over Daesh attack plot: judicial source

France charges 18-yr-old over Daesh attack plot: judicial source
  • Initial investigations indicated that he planned to carry out a terror attack
  • The man had been detained in the Drome region of southeast France

PARIS: French authorities have charged an 18-year-old man on suspicion of planning an imminent terror attack with a knife in the name of Daesh militants, a judicial source said on Wednesday.
Initial investigations indicated that he planned to carry out a terror attack “in the name of Daesh, to which he had pledged allegiance,” said the source, who asked not to be named.
The source added that the man had been detained in the Drome region of southeast France and charged in Paris.
The man, from a Muslim family, had adopted extremist views and was considered a threat, sparking France’s anti-terror prosecutors office (PNAT) to open an investigation on May 19, a source close to the case said.
Police arrested him on Friday and a video of him swearing allegiance to Daesh was found in his possession.
The source did not say whom he was planning to target in the attack or in which location.
France saw a wave of militant attacks from 2015 that left hundreds dead and pushed the country to its highest level of security alert.
There has been no repeat of a mass atrocity in the last years, but there have been several deadly attacks carried out by lone individuals.


Pakistan’s ex-PM denies deal with govt, will rally in Islamabad until elections announced

Pakistan’s ex-PM denies deal with govt, will rally in Islamabad until elections announced
Updated 25 May 2022

Pakistan’s ex-PM denies deal with govt, will rally in Islamabad until elections announced

Pakistan’s ex-PM denies deal with govt, will rally in Islamabad until elections announced
  • Videos on social media, TV show police clashing with protesters
  • Authorities use shipping containers, trucks to block major roads into capital

ISLAMABAD: Clashes between anti-government protesters and police continued in major Pakistani cities on Wednesday as former prime minister Imran Khan set out to the capital for a demonstration he hopes will bring down the government and force early elections, denying reports of a deal with the administration and saying that he would rally until fresh polls were called.
Khan was removed from office in a vote of no-confidence last month after losing his majority in parliament. The former premier has alleged his ouster was part of a Washington-backed foreign conspiracy and refused to recognize the new government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. The US has denied the allegations.
Since his ouster, Khan has held public rallies across Pakistan to demand early elections. Last Sunday he announced that he would lead a massive rally to the capital and hold a sit-in until the government announced a date for polls. The government on Tuesday said it would not let Khan’s march enter Islamabad on the grounds that it aimed to spread “chaos and anarchy” in the country.
After media reports that Khan’s party had reached an agreement with the government, Khan posted “absolutely not” on Twitter.
He said: “We are moving toward Islamabad and no question of any deal. We will remain in Islamabad until announcement of dates for the dissolution of assemblies and elections are given.
“God willing we have to reach D-Chowk Islamabad. No hurdle can stop us,” Khan said in an address to supporters in Swabi en route to the capital. He was referring to a famous town square in the capital that has been a common destination for protest marches.
On Wednesday morning and well into the afternoon, the D-Chowk area wore a deserted look, sealed off with containers and guarded by a large contingent of Punjab and Islamabad Police.
At one point, about 20 PTI supporters appeared and chanted in favor of Khan but were chased off by police, batons in hand.
After brief negotiations, the protesters dispersed and the police officers sat under some trees to eat lunch. Other officers were immersed in their cell phones, following the latest developments and asking media correspondents present for inputs.
One woman, a PTI supporter, walked up to a small group of officers and said that she would return in the evening to join the protest.
“You won’t fire at us, will you?” She asked jokingly. The police officers smiled and said no.
Videos circulating on social media and local TV channels showed police clashing with protesters in Lahore and Islamabad, with Punjab police using tear gas on demonstrators in Lahore and baton charging them in the capital.
PTI supporters and police also clashed in Gujranwala when the officers tried to stop protesters with barricades but marchers forced their way through the obstructions.
According to PTI’s Gujranwala General Secretary Tariq Gujjar, 150 people from the caravan had been taken into custody.
All major roads linking the Punjab province with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, from where Khan started his march, were blocked with barricades. Police and district officials blocked the GT Road highway with shipping containers over the Attock Khurd Bridge, which marks the border between Punjab and KP. Media reported intense tear gas shelling on the bridge by anti-riot police in the afternoon on Wednesday.
The motorway M1 connecting the two provinces was also blocked off and other motorways traversing Punjab, including M2, were blocked at several points.
Section 144, which bans large public gatherings, was imposed on Tuesday in Lahore, the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, and in Karachi, as well as other major cities in the country, while the Punjab government called in the paramilitary Rangers to keep law and order. Pakistani authorities also used dozens of shipping containers and trucks to block off major roads into the capital.
Former education minister Shafqat Mahmood from Khan’s PTI said on Twitter that police raided his house in the early morning hours of Wednesday.
“Police barged into my house without a warrant while I was not there. Do they really think these tactics would intimidate us?”
Meanwhile, PTI Sen. Ejaz Chaudhary was arrested after the Punjab government said that weapons were recovered from the vehicles of PTI’s Lahore office bearers.
An admin for Chaudhary’s account tweeted: “The place he was staying was stormed by over 100 policemen — the gate of the house broken — the family at that place harassed and phones taken. This will not dampen our spirit.”
A number of other PTI office bearers were also arrested.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is hearing on Wednesday a hurriedly moved petition seeking the removal of roadblocks and barricades, and the free movement of residents in the federal capital. The court asked Khan’s party and the government to agree on an alternate location to D-Chowk and inform the court. It has also ordered the government to remove all blockades and release arrested PTI supporters.

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