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Ranbaxy launches anti-malaria drug

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Ranbaxy Laboratories, India’s top drug maker by sales, today launched a drug to treat malaria. Claimed to be the first original drug developed by an Indian entity, Synriam, the branded anti-malarial combination, will offer a more effective and shorter drug regimen to patients. The drug has been approved for use on adults.

According to Ranbaxy, the product is undergoing final stages of clinical trials in Africa, a region that accounts for 90 per cent of malaria-related deaths globally. India, however, accounts for 75 per cent of the 2.5 million cases of malaria reported in the Southeast Asia. would cost Rs 130 for a complete course (one tablet each for three days), Arun Sawhney, chief executive officer and managing director of Ranbaxy, said.

The company did not disclose the market potential of the medicine, as malaria medicines, by and large, are supplied through government channels. Ranbaxy expects the product to be included in government supplies soon. “We do not expect revenues from Synriam to have a major impact on our balance sheet. It is our CSR (corporate social responsibility) drug, as our prices will be the lowest among similar drugs,” Sawhney said.

Of the 17 medicines approved by the World Health Organisation for treatment of malaria, more than half are supplied by Indian drug companies such as Cipla, and Ajanta Pharma. Other players include multinationals such as Sanofi Aventis and Novartis. A pre-qualification is essential for including a malaria drug under any global programme. Ranbaxy also needs this international approval, if it has to supply its medicine for the treatment of one of the most fatal forms of malaria, falciparum malaria infection.

Ranbaxy got involved with the research project initiated by Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), a Geneva-based not-for-profit foundation, when Swiss drug multinational Roche, the original industry partner, decided to hand over the potential drug candidate to it.

Four years later, MMV stopped funding the project and transferred the rights for development and marketing of the medicine to Ranbaxy after it reviewed the progress of clinical trials in November 2006. According to MMV’s annual report for 2006, the decision was taken after “the review of the preliminary data and other portfolio priorities”. Ranbaxy roped in the department of science and technology (DST) to part fund the project.

Sawhney said the development cost of the drug was $30 million (Rs 150 crore). Of this, Rs 5 crore came in as DST grant.

The Ranbaxy-DST agreement necessitates the company supplying the medicine for use by government channels at a much lower rate. While Sawhney said the company was yet to work out the pricing formula with DST, government sources said Ranbaxy had to supply the drug at a price 10 per cent more than the actual cost of production. If the drug is exported, DST would be entitled to three per cent of the net profit earned by Ranbaxy.

Sudershan Arora, president of R&D, Ranbaxy, said the company expected to complete the final clinical trials by the first quarter of 2013.

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