India Bans Exports of Trump-Backed Virus Drug as Demand Surges

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India’s government banned exports of hydroxychloroquine, as global demand surges for the malaria drug touted by U.S. President Donald Trump as a potential coronavirus treatment.

Exports will be limited to fulfilling existing contracts, while certain shipments on humanitarian grounds may also be allowed on a case-by-case basis, according to astatement issued Wednesday by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade.

Trump has vowed to make the medication widely available to fight the pandemic, calling the drug a “game changer” in the treatment of the coronavirus.

Though there is no conclusive scientific evidence that hydroxychloroquine can treat the infection from the novel pathogen, U.S. hospitals and consumers have begun stockpiling the drug after reports of its efficacy in some small clinical studies — but not in others — began circulating online and in the media. In India, the government is recommending health-care workers take the drug regularly as a preventive measure to avoid contracting the infection while treating Covid-19 patients.

Cadila Healthcare Ltd., the world’s largest maker of an anti-malarial drug, has said it plans to boost capacity more than ten-fold to meet the surging global demand. Sharvil Patel, the Ahmedabad-based company’s managing director, said the company will increase production of hydroxychloroquine sulphate to as much as 35 tons, or about 200 million individual doses per month, from about 3 tons per month currently.

The rush to make this cheap and decades-old medicine easily accessible led the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to lift import restrictions on three plants of another Indian pharmaceutical company, Ipca Laboratories Ltd., on March 20.

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