By Zeba Siddiqui and Sumit Khanna
NEW DELHI/AHMEDABAD (Reuters) - India is set to begin shipping the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to the United States where President Donald Trump has touted it as a potential weapon against the coronavirus.
"The first shipments should start next week," said Sudarshan Jain, secretary general of Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA).
India is the world's largest producer of hydroxychloroquine but last month banned most exports to secure its own supplies, drawing warnings of retaliation from Trump.
This week India allowed some exports of the drug and Trump has thanked New Delhi for the decision.
Jain said companies in India are ramping up capacity to meet the U.S. demand, including Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, IPCA Laboratories and Cadila Healthcare.
Cadila has increased production tenfold to 30 metric tonnes per month and is ready to produce more if needed, Managing Director Sharvil Patel told Reuters.
Companies are ramping up while battling a three-week nationwide lockdown India imposed on March 25.
Cadila is based in Gujarat, a drug production hub where industry insiders say the shutdown has forced companies to contend with supply chain disruptions and worker shortages.
"There are 28 manufacturers of hydroxychloroquine in Gujarat," said H.G. Koshia, a senior drugs department official. "All of them have enhanced production in view of rise in demand."
The IPA's Jain said firms were confident they could produce adequate quantities to meet both global and domestic demand.
"The government is getting a lot of requests from other countries," Jain noted.
India is stocking at least four months' supply and has agreed to export to at least 30 countries, according to export body Pharmexcil's estimates.
Hydroxychloroquine is unproven as a treatment but its use has soared as the United States has quickly become the epicentre of the pandemic.
U.S. deaths due to coronavirus topped 16,400, while India's death toll stands at 199.
(Additonal reporting by Neha Dasgupta in New Delhi; writing by Abhirup Roy and Zeba Siddiqui; editing by Aditya Kalra and Jason Neely)