Illegal remdesivir on sale in India as COVID tightens its grip

With COVID-19 deaths escalating in India, a man has been arrested for selling counterfeit or diverted vials of remdesivir, one of the few drugs effective in treating severe coronavirus infections.

The man was intercepted in Surat in the western Indian state of Gujarat and stands accused of selling six vials of remdesivir bearing labels suggesting they were made by generic drugmaker Hetero, according to a Times of India report.

The newspaper indicates that the man sold the six vials to a family for 7,000 rupees (around $94) each.

Hetero manufactures remdesivir under the terms of a non-exclusive licensing agreement with Gilead Sciences, which originated remdesivir and distributes it under the Veklury brand name. The vials were badged under Hetero's Covifor brand, which is used in India and certain other countries around the world.

At the moment it's not been confirmed whether the vials were falsified remdesivir, or genuine vials -possibly expired or refilled – that had been diverted into the black market.

However, it is reported however that the contents of the vials was in liquid form, whereas genuine remdesivir comes as a powder that needs to be reconstituted with sterile water before dosing via intravenous infusion.

The incident comes shortly after two employees at a hospital in South Bengaluru – including a doctor – were questioned by police in connection with the sale of remdesivir on the black market, and also after four men were arrested in Pune, Maharashtra, for selling remdesivir vials refilled with paracetamol.

The fraud is taking place in the midst of a devastating acceleration of the COVID-19 pandemic in India, with another 320,000 cases reported yesterday and the country's death toll now approaching 200,000 people.

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