ISLAMABAD              -           Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) has directed the Drugs Regulatory Authority of Pakistan to ensure availability of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) medicines stressing to control the overpricing of them as well.

A statement released by the ministry of NHS said that Tocilizumab (Actemra) and Remedesivir injections used for management of COVID-19 patients are being made available by the government. The statement referring to the Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on NHS Dr. ZafarMirza said that these medicines will be distributed to critically ill patients through a robust mechanism to meet the needs of various hospitals. “Over-charging of the Actemrainjection will not be allowed,” said Dr. ZafarMirza.  He said that over charging on the approved prices of this lifesaving injection will not be allowed. Approved maximum retail price (MRP) for Actemra 80 mg injection is Rs11, 952 per vial whereas Rs29,882 for Actemra 200 mg Injection vial and Rs59, 764 for Actemra 400 mg injection vial. He said strict action will be taken against elements involved in the sale of over-charging or black markeering of life-saving drugs in accordance with DRAP Act 2012. He said that the public are encouraged to inform DRAP on its tollfree number 0800-03727 in case they have been over-charged for Actemrainjection.

He added that directions have been issued to the National Task Force on Eradication of Spurious and Substandard Drugs to apprehend black marketeers and over charging elements on approved prices of Tocilizumabinjection.

Tocilizumab injection is a humanised monoclonal antibody that is ordinarily used as an immune-suppressant agent in rheumatoid arthritis. The National Clinical Management Guidelines have included it for use in treatment of critically ill patients of COVID-19 who have Cytokine Release Storm (a condition which a subset of critically ill COVID-19 patients can develop and is established through certain laboratory tests). However, its availability remained an issue as it was being imported from Japan only. In order to resolve the shortage, DRAP has approved import of Tocilizumab injection from the United States of America as well. Multiple consignments have arrived of the injection, however, it will be made available through authorised distributors only. Hospitals and institutions treating critically ill COIVD-19 patients can contact Roche company on 0304-1111085 for availability of this injection. 

Another important medicine, Remdesivir, is a relatively new anti-viral medicine recommended for use in moderate to severe disease by Pakistan’s National Clinical Management Guidelines and has been shown to shorten the duration of illness.   In the Drug Registration Board meeting held on 8th – 11th June 2020, two importers and 12 local manufacturers of Remedesivir have been approved for market authorisation. The approvals would allow larger quantities to be made available. After the approval of medicines for emergency registration, Drug Pricing Committee of DRAP held an emergency meeting on the request of DrZafarMirza, to fix maximum price for Remedesvir, a statutory requirement in accordance with Drug Pricing Policy 2018 and will be soon approved by the federal government. Information regarding Remedesivir registration status can be obtained from DRAP’s toll free number. The Government of Pakistan is also planning to import and provide these life-saving medicines for the patients who cannot afford these medicines as ‘we consider this the state’s responsibility,’ said DrMirza.