By Sachin Ravikumar
BENGALURU (Reuters) - India's supply of antiviral drug remdesivir and generic equivalents is stabilising after shortages of the vital COVID-19 medicine at hospitals, according to a top executive at one of the country's big drugmakers, Cipla Ltd.
Remdesivir, made by U.S.-based Gilead Sciences Inc, has been in high demand globally, and a handful of companies including Cipla are authorised to make and sell generic versions in 127 developing nations.
Cipla's launch of remdesivir in late June, along with subsequent launches by others, has helped ease supply bottlenecks in India, Cipla's Global Chief Financial Officer, Kedar Upadhye, told Reuters.
"Of late, some of the complaints for supplies, and the number of panicky calls that I used to get, have come down dramatically," Upadhye said. "Looks like things have settled."
COVID-19 cases in India, the world's third-worst hit country, have surged in the past month, with new infections topping 50,000 daily.
Yet while hospitals previously reported they were struggling to get their hands on the drug, leading to black market sales, Upadhye said the indications from his supply chain were that pressure had eased.
That suggested severe cases had not surged as much as the overall numbers, he said.
Government data at the end of July showed about 0.3% of the country's active coronavirus patients were on ventilators, while 1.6% on intensive care unit support and 2.3% on oxygen support.
Severe cases likely amounted to under 3% of all infections, said Giridhara Babu, an epidemiologist at the Public Health Foundation of India.
India, one of the world's biggest producer of generic drugs, recommends remdesivir for moderate to severe COVID-19. Doctors also use other drugs, including favirpiravir, another antiviral approved for the disease.
Cipla, which is also free to export the drug, supplies it in South Africa and plans to expand access to "several sub-Saharan African countries", it has said.
India had previously blocked exports of another drug, hydroxychloroquine, used by some doctors in treating the disease. The ban has since been lifted.
Cipla declined to comment on the number of vials of remdesivir it had shipped so far, but said it had started making the drug at a plant in Goa in western India to ramp up production.
(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar, Anuron Kumar Mitra and Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; editing by Patrick Graham and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)