Maiden seeks to reopen plant after India govt lab says cough syrups were safe

NEW DELHI, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Maiden Pharmaceuticals Ltd said on Friday it will seek to reopen its main factory after India's main drugs officer said test samples of cough syrups that had been linked to deaths in Gambia showed they had not been contaminated and met government standards.

The plant was closed after the World Health Organization said in October that its investigators had found "unacceptable" levels of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, which can be toxic and lead to acute kidney injury, in the products. It linked the products to the deaths of 69 children.

But India this week told the WHO that tests of samples from the same batches of syrups sent to Gambia were compliant with government specifications. The results of the tests, carried out by a government-run laboratory, have been sent to a health ministry panel of experts for further action.

Reached for comment, the WHO said it stood by its action.

"WHO’s mandate is to issue global alerts about potential risks. WHO stands by the action taken," the U.N. organisation's spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic told Reuters in an email.

"These contaminated syrups are dangerous and should not be in any medicine, ever," Jarasevic said, adding that WHO-contracted labs in Ghana and Switzerland tested the cough syrups made by Maiden Pharma and found excess levels of ethyleneglycol and diethyleneglycol.

Maiden Managing Director Naresh Kumar Goyal told Reuters he had full faith in Indian regulatory and judiciary processes.

"I have not done anything wrong," he said. "We will now try to request the authorities to reopen the factory. But I don't know when that will happen. We are still waiting."

India's drugs controller general, V.G. Somani, said in a Dec. 13 letter to the WHO that the U.N. agency's accusations had "adversely impacted the image of India's pharmaceutical products across the globe, and caused irreparable damage to the supply chain of pharmaceutical products".

The country, known as the "pharmacy of the world", supplies 45% of all generic medicines to Africa. India's pharmaceutical exports have more than doubled in the last decade to hit $24.5 billion in the last fiscal year.

India's junior health minister, Bharati Pravin Pawar, told parliament on Friday that Maiden's manufacturing operations remain shut for now due to other violations. The government found in October that the firm had violated rules "across its manufacturing and testing activities".

Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Additional reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar, Editing by Edwina Gibbs, William Maclean

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As the breaking news editor for South Asia, Krishna leads a team of reporters in the region covering everything from political and general news to economic and financial news. He also closely tracks India’s health industry and all things Bangladesh. He was a member of teams that won the Society of Publishers in Asia awards in 2017 and 2018 for Reuters coverage of the Bangladesh Bank heist and the Rohingya refugee crisis. He served as Malaysia bureau chief in 2019/20 before returning home. Krishna earlier led India’s political and general news team.