Indian pharmacist accused of selling fake Actemra for COVID-19

A court in India has denied a bail application for a man – reported to be a pharmacist – who has been accused of selling counterfeit versions of tocilizumab, a drug in testing as a treatment for COVID-19.

Ajay Shyamlal Nasa (40) was arrested after a fellow accused person was found in possession of 15 vials of the injectable antibody, which was originally developed by Roche and is sold as Actemra/RoActemra. It is distributed in India by Cipla.

Tocilizumab – an interleukin-6 inhibitor – has so far failed to show a benefit in COVID-19 patients, although some trials are still putting the drug through its paces. The drug was tested on the premise that it might dampen down the runaway inflammatory response seen in people with severe COVID-19.

A report in the Mumbai Mirror notes that prosecutors sent samples of the seized vials to Roche, which confirmed they were falsified. It’s not yet clear how many counterfeits were sold in the market.

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Govindpuri Colony, New Delhi resident Nasa has been taken into custody and is currently being held in Taloja jail near Mumbai, according to the news service.

Prosecutors claim that he took one genuine vial of the medicine and asked an unnamed Uttarakhand company to copy the vials, which he then filled with distilled water and other medicines, including the steroid dexamethasone, which has been shown to have some efficacy in COVID-19 in clinical trials.

Nasa’s legal representation claims that no counterfeit tocilizumab was found at his pharmacy, and there is no direct evidence linking him to the scam.

Earlier this year, the authorities in Gujarat investigated two incidents involving falsified and fraudulent Actemra sales by criminals attempting to profiteer from the pandemic.

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