Cipla to tap foreign cos for large-scale vax play

Mumbai: Cipla, one of India’s top 3 drug firms, is readying a larger play in the Covid therapies space, buoyed by the growth it has witnessed in this segment. Moving beyond a wide portfolio of Covid drugs and diagnostic kits, the Mumbai-based company — with revenues of nearly Rs 20,000 crore — now plans to partner foreign companies for large-scale fill-and-finish services for coronavirus vaccines.
Cipla, which witnessed robust year-on-year (YoY) growth of nearly 74% in May on the back of Covid drugs (Tocilizumab, Remdesivir & Azithromycin) has sought clarity from the government on the vaccine ecosystem, even as it weighs options. “We are open to partnerships for fill-finish, and would have the capability in terms of logistics to administer the vaccine, to sell the vaccine. It will be done through our network hospitals. We have adequate cold storage. We do fill-finish for several other products,” Cipla MD and global CEO Umang Vohra told TOI in an exclusive interview.
Vohra added that the company has no immediate plans to develop a Covid jab. There has been speculation that Cipla has sought fast-track regulatory approvals to launch US firm Moderna’s vaccine to bolster the country’s vaccine supply.
There are marketing, distribution and certain manufacturing tie-ups with MNCs including Roche, Gilead Sciences and Lilly for key Covid drugs (Tocilizumab, Remdesivir and Baricitinib). Additionally, the company entered the diagnostics space with Covid kits in October last year. Now it plans to deepen its Covid portfolio, which roughly contributed about 5% (full-year basis) beyond drugs and diagnostics.
The fill-finish process requires a set of specialised capabilities and equipment, and typically drug companies with an injectables’ facility can handle it. It involves aseptically filling the active ingredient in any form — such as sterile liquid, powder, and suspension — into vials, ampoules and then packaging it. Vohra did not disclose details of the foreign company, or the nature of the tie-up under discussion.
“Even to fill-finish, you have to understand the vaccine you are importing. We can only go forward to that step if we understand what is permissible and what is not. To put a general overview, for most companies who have imported vaccines, the fill-finish is not a problem. It is usually the first-step to localise it, and then it depends on what is the nature of the partnership,” he added.
Vohra said the company was seeking guidance and direction “on applicable laws”, and how the vaccine environment could operate. Further, Cipla has a basket of drugs to treat post-Covid lung sequelae. Its post-Covid offering includes an anti-fibrotic drug that helps in the treatment of lung fibrosis. It has also repurposed two antibiotics, Tobramycin and Colistin, used by inhalation (nebulisation), for the treatment of cystic fibrosis, a rare genetic disease affecting lungs in children.
Besides, the partnerships include licensing agreements for manufacturing and supply like the one with Gilead for Remdesivir and Lilly for Baricitinib, whereas others pertain to distribution of drugs for Roche — Tocilizumab and antibody cocktail (Casirivimab and Imdevimab). Cipla has also partnered to distribute MSD’s antiviral drug Molnupiravir, and with CSIR-IICT, a national-level research centre, to develop and launch Favipiravir.

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