Why was DRDO’s COVID-19 drug licence given to only one laboratory, asks Madras HC

The Court asked why licenses had not been issued to as many reputed laboratories as possible, to ramp up production of the oral powder that has been approved to be used as an adjunct in treating COVID-19 patients

The Madras High Court on Thursday directed the Centre to explain by Friday the reason for the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) having partnered with Dr. Reddy’s Laboratory in Hyderabad alone to produce 2-deoxy-D-glucose (2-DG), an adjunct drug to treat COVID-19 patients.

Justices N. Kirubakaran and T.V. Thamilselvi wanted to know why the DRDO had not issued licences to as many reputed laboratories as possible to ramp up production of the oral powder that has been approved to be used as an adjunct in treating moderate to severe COVID-19 patients.

The judges said it was imperative on the part of the government to give a fillip to the production, especially when lakhs had died during the first two waves of the pandemic and the threat of the third wave was looming large. They directed a Central government standing counsel to ascertain the response of the Ministry of Defence, DRDO & Union Health Ministry by Friday.

The interim direction was issued on a public interest litigation petition filed by D. Saravanan, a private sector employee based in Chennai. According to the petitioner, DRDO’s Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences (INMAS) had come up with the oral powder 2-DG and obtained emergency use authorisation from the Drugs Controller General of India. However, surprisingly, the licence for manufacturing the drug had been granted only to Dr. Reddy’s Laboratory which had planned to sell it at a price of ₹990 per sachet containing 2.34 g of the oral powder. Fearing that such monopoly might not augur well when lakhs of lives were being lost to the pandemic, the litigant insisted on the granting of the license to multiple pharmaceutical companies.

His counsel T. Sundaravadanam insisted that DRDO should not only share the technical know-how about the drug with multiple pharmaceutical companies but also ensure that it was sold at an affordable price.

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