Amidst an alarming surge in fresh Covid-19 cases in the country, the Drugs Controller General of India (DGCI) on Friday, April 23, gave its approval to the emergency use of Virafin, a Hepatitis C drug manufactured by Zydus Cadila, to treat adult patients with moderate symptoms.
Virafin is the trade name used by Zydus Cadila for Pegylated Interferon alpha-2b. For the uninitiated, interferons are signalling proteins found in our bodies that act as immunological agents. Zydus Cadila has outlined that this medicine can be given when there is a moderate degree of infection. When the viral load is between moderate and high, the need for oxygen is rapid. So, by administering this medicine, the viral load will decrease, and the need for oxygen will also reduce.
The pharma company claims that in their phase three trial, most of those suffering from moderate effects of Covid-19 infection reported zero viral load within the seven days of administering a single dose of this drug. Therefore, the inference that has been drawn is that this drug can reduce the viral load faster. On that basis, it has received an emergency use authorisation from the DCGI.
This drug is already being used for the treatment of hepatitis C, which is another virus condition. However, in 2004, when the SARS outbreak took place, which is the first variant of coronavirus, studies conducted at the time demonstrated that this drug is also effective in the treatment of SARS. Therefore, now it has been repurposed to treat Covid-19.
The drug is a single dose solution that makes the treatment more convenient for the patients. When administered early on during COVID-19, Virafin will help patients recover faster and avoid much of the complications, the company said. In a release, Cadila Health highlighted that “the drug has also shown efficacy against other viral infections.
The drug ensures faster viral clearance and has several add-on advantages compared to other anti-viral agents, the government’s official press release reads. The single dose injection can be administered more efficiently as it does not require a hospital setting. Unlike Remdesivir, the drug can be given to the patients at their homes.
The price of the drug is yet to be decided but it will be positioned competitively against Remdesivir. Dr Sharvil Patel, Managing Director, Cadila Healthcare Limited said “The fact that we are able to offer a therapy which significantly reduces the viral load when given early on can help in better disease management. It comes at a much-needed time for patients and we will continue to provide them access to critical therapies in this battle against COVID-19.”
Since it has received an emergency authorisation, this medicine will be available for restricted use and can be given only when prescribed by a doctor and administered under supervised conditions. Therefore, this medicine should not be given to Covid-19 patients over the counter without any prescription to avoid misuse or ill-use.
Any drug which is meant for an anti-viral purpose has its side effect. Therefore, there are some side effects of this medicine as well. Some people may develop influenza-like symptoms, and in some cases, there can be risks of altering blood composition and causing neuro-psychiatric disturbances. Therefore, it is crucial to only take this after consulting a physician.
Given the current scenario and Zydus Cadila’s claim, the medical fraternity are hopeful that Virafin will reduce the severity of the disease and perhaps be instrumental in reducing the mortality rates.