India has shipped 50 million tablets of hydroxychloroquine to the United States, an Indian source with direct knowledge of the exports said, although U.S. regulators warned the anti-malarial drug may have harmful side effects in the treatment of COVID-19.
The trade, India’s biggest export of the drug to any country, follows a request by U.S. President Donald Trump for New Delhi to release supplies of hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for the respiratory disease.
“It amounts to 50 million tablets… Commercial companies are pursuing. It’s ongoing,” said the source, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of discussions with the United States.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the European Union’s drug regulator and the Canadian health department have cautioned against the use of hydroxychloroquine, citing side effects such as abnormal heart rhythms and a dangerously rapid heart rate.
However, the health warnings have done little to deter the drug’s imports to the United States, where some doctors are continuing to prescribe the drug for the treatment of COVID-19.
“There is high demand for hydroxychloroquine in the international market including U.S.,” Viranchi Shah, senior vice-president, Indian Drug Manufacturers Association.
This month India said it would allow some exports of hydroxychloroquine after Trump touted it as a “game changer” and urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to send supplies.
In Modi’s home state of Gujarat, 68 new licences have been issued to drugmakers to manufacture hydroxychloroquine formulations, H.G. Koshia, commissioner, Food and Drug Control Administration.
Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, IPCA Laboratories and Cadila Healthcare are among India’s leading suppliers of hydroxychloroquine.
Cadila Healthcare recently said it was ramping up production tenfold to 30 metric tonnes per month.
Sales of the decades-old treatment had soared overnight after Trump’s advocacy of the drug, raising questions whether political pressure had overridden scientific criteria in the crisis.