MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian pharmaceutical firm Pharmasyntez said on Monday it was ready to ship up to 1 million packs of the remdesivir antiviral drug to India by end-May to help fight a surge in COVID-19 cases there, once it has received the approval of Russia’s government.
The move comes soon after the drug’s patent holder, U.S. firm Gilead Sciences, filed a lawsuit challenging the Russian government’s decision last year to let Pharmasynthez develop a generic version of remdesivir – which is called Remdeform – without their consent.
Russia has cited national security for its decision.
Pharmasyntez said it wanted urgently to send a shipment to India, where new COVID-19 infections hit a record high for a fifth straight day on Monday, overwhelming hospitals and prompting offers of help from other countries.
“We have a great desire to help our Indian brothers in their time of great trouble,” Pharmasyntez said, in comments to Reuters, adding it was awaiting a legal basis on which to act.
This could take the shape of a licence for the export of a drug authorised by the Russian government at India’s request, or the shipment could be sent as humanitarian aid, it said.
Asked about the issue, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he was not aware of any specific appeal from Indian authorities but did not rule out telephone calls between the leaders of Russian and India about assistance in the coming days.
Remdesivir, sold by Gilead under the brand name Veklury, was originally developed to treat hepatitis C and subsequently tested against Ebola.
It shortens time to recovery in adults with COVID-19 and its generic version is listed in COVID-19 treatment guidelines published by the Russian health ministry.
However its effectiveness against COVID-19 has been hotly disputed since a large World Health Organization-led trial found in October that it failed to improve COVID-19 survival rates.
The drug is considered more effective for patients in less serious conditions.
On Monday the European Union said it had received a request from India for antiviral drugs including remdesivir and medical oxygen to help fight the surge in COVID-19 cases.
(Reporting by Polina Nikolskaya; writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Gareth Jones)