Image Indian pharmaceutical companies that manufacture oseltamivir, the generic version of tamiflu, are pushing the government into allowing them to sell the drug in the retail market, industry sources told

The current directive from the government restricts companies from making the drug available in the open market through chemists and pharmacies that are either standalone or part of a private hospital.

“We can sell only to government hospitals or directly to the government. This is not enough as it will not reach a large audience. If we have to sell directly to the government it has to be via a tender process,” a senior official of one of the oseltamivir-producing companies said.

Industry observers say that the government’s rationale behind the decision is to ensure that people do not stock up the drug and misuse it.

They, however, feel that such a situation would not arise apart from cases like that of swine flu (H1N1 influenza A). An official at another drug company that also makes the generic version of tamiflu said, “Although there is a possibility of panic buying even by people who do not need it, that is unlikely in the current scenario.”

Health ministry joint secretary Vineet Choudhary reiterated to reporters that the drugs would continue to be supplied through government hospitals and health centres and will not be available in retail market.

Oseltamivir is an antiviral drug that is used in the treatment of both Influenzavirus A and Influenzavirus B. It is a neuraminidase inhibitor and acts as a transition-state analogue inhibitor of influenza neuraminidase, preventing progeny virions from emerging from infected cells.

The importance of early treatment is that the protein inhibition is more effective within the first 48 hours. Keeping this in mind, industry observers feel that making the drug available only in government hospitals will make access to medication difficult for people.

YK Hamied, chairman, Cipla, told, “Everyone has the right to access medication. If the drug is sold only in government hospitals, then patients in private hospitals will not have easy access to it.”

Cipla has gone on record stating that it can provide 1.5 million generic doses of tamiflu. The company will need 4-6 weeks to supply it after the drug has been asked for.

This act of the government mirrors its move in 2005-06 during the bird flu attack when it stocked up the drug and only allowed companies to sell it through government hospitals.

This time, the government is considering granting compulsory license to Indian manufacturers to enable them to manufacture the product should the WHO raise the alert level to six — which will classify it as a pandemic.

This time though, the timely rejection of Roche’s patent in March has allowed Indian companies to manufacture the product and sell it in India and the countries where Roche does not have patent protection.