May 15, 2020 / 1:06 PM / 17 days ago

Pakistan's Ferozsons to begin producing COVID-19 drug remdesivir

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan will soon start production of the antiviral drug remdesivir, which has shown promise in treating the novel coronavirus, the country’s top health official and a pharmaceutical company’s chief executive announced on Friday.

Production should start “within weeks,” said Osman Khalid Waheed, the chief executive of Ferozsons Laboratories Ltd, which will produce the drug. He spoke at a news conference alongside Pakistan’s de facto health minister, Zafar Mirza.

“Pakistan will be among the first three countries in the world where it will not only be produced but will also be exported to the whole world,” Mirza said. It will be exported to 127 countries, he said.

Remdesivir, a drug developed by Gilead Sciences, has grabbed attention as one of the most promising treatments for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 300,000 people.

To expand its access, Gilead said it signed non-exclusive licensing pacts here with five generic drugmakers based in India and Pakistan, allowing them make and sell remdesivir for 127 countries.

“It is a commitment by us and Gilead that this medicine could be produced at minimum cost and make it most accessible,” Waheed said.

Pakistan has recorded 37,218 COVID-19 cases and 803 deaths. Lockdowns to curb the disease’s spread are forecast to will cause the country’s economy to shrink 1% to 1.5% in 2020.

Despite a rising rate of infection, Pakistan began lifting those lockdowns last week, primarily to avert an economic meltdown.

Reporting by Asif Shahzad, editing by Larry King

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