ISLAMABAD: The government of Pakistan has exempted the taxes and duties on the import of remdesivir — a drug that has shown “clear-cut” improvement in outcomes against the coronavirus illness.
The development comes as the diseases continues to take a toll on the country, with more than 185,000 infections and over 3,700 deaths recorded so far.
According to a notification from the finance ministry issued Monday, the Federal Government exempted “the import of finished drug Remdesivir 100mg Injection and injectable solution 100mg vial (PCT 3004.9099) from whole of the customs duty and additional customs duty,” the notification read.
Last week, the government had exempted “whole of the customs duty, regulatory duty and additional customs duty” on the import of various healthcare equipment, including goggles, face shields, N-95, surgical, ventury masks, nitrile and latex gloves, gum boots, and biohazard bags.
Other items exempted from import and custom duties included PCR system and real-time PCR kit for the detection of coronavirus, micro centrifuge and refrigerated centrifuge machine, viral RNA extraction kit and machine, viral transport medium (VTM), ICU motorized patient beds, and oxygen recovery kits.
The exemptions were notified to be in effect till September 30, 2020.
Back in March, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) had exempted all kinds of diagnostic support and health safety items from taxes — including income tax, sales tax, and customs duty — for a three-month period to combat the coronavirus pandemic in Pakistan.
These items included medical equipment and machinery, apparatus like coronavirus detection kits, surgical masks, multi-mode ventilators with air compressors, face shields, and other medical supplies.
The three-month period of tax exemptions was said to possibly be extended for another three months on the health ministry’s recommendation should the adverse circumstances continue.
On Sunday, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) was taking all possible measures to ensure the availability of remdesivir for COVID-19 patients.
“DRAP has issued import and registration letters to the manufacturers to ensure the availability of remdesivir for coronavirus patients, particularly during emergencies,”Mirza said.
Keeping in view the mushrooming numbers of virus affected patients in the country, Mirza stated that the regulatory body has issued licenses to two importers and 14 local manufacturers.
Pakistan’s Ferozsons Laboratories already signed a non-exclusive voluntary licensing agreement with Gilead in May to further expand the supply of remdesivir, with the US-based firm saying the deal allowed the five companies “to manufacture Remdesivir for distribution in 127 countries”.
Ferozsons Laboratories in a notice to the Pakistan Stocks Exchange (PSX) had informed that its listed subsidiary, BF Biosciences Limited (BFBL), had signed an agreement with Gilead for the manufacturing and selling of remdesivir.
“Once production starts, we are confident that BFBL will have sufficient quantities over time to serve the needs of the patients in Pakistan and access countries abroad,” the notice read.
The same month, Bloomberg had reported that Pakistan-based pharmaceutical company AGP Ltd planned to sell remdesivir one to two months from that time in the country.
According to AGP Chief Executive Nusrat Munshi, the pharmaceutical company would seek permission from Pakistan’s drug authority to import the medicine from Mylan N.V., a pharmaceutical from Netherlands. A similar arrangement is in place with Mylan for the import of Hepatitis C treatment Sovaldi.
AGP Ltd is Mylan’s exclusive distributor in Pakistan.
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) — which oversaw the remdesivir trial — had said late April patients on the drug made by Gilead Sciences, Inc had a 31% faster time to recovery than those on a placebo.
“Specifically, the median time to recovery was 11 days for patients treated with remdesivir compared with 15 days for those who received placebo,” it said.
The results also suggested that people who were on the drug were less likely to die, although the difference was small.