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.”