Sun Pharma starts trials for potential plant-based COVID drug

New Delhi, Jun 5 (PTI) Drugmaker Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd on Friday said it has begun clinical trials of a plant-derived drug for the potential treatment of COVID-19, with results expected by October.

The drug, AQCH, is derived from tropical, climbing shrub Cocculus hirsutus, commonly known as broom creeper or Patalgarudi, and is believed to have medicinal properties.

In a statement, Sun Pharma said phase-2 trials on 210 patients across 12 centres in India will be conducted and results are expected by October. A human safety study of the drug has been completed.

AQCH was initially developed to treat dengue but has 'shown broad antiviral effect' in laboratory tests against coronavirus, it said.

India's largest drugmaker joins pharma companies around the world to develop an effective treatment or vaccine for the disease that has killed almost 4 lakh people worldwide.

Two other Indian firms, Glenmark Pharmaceuticals Ltd and Strides Pharma Science Ltd too are conducting trials for potential COVID-19 treatments.

Sun Pharma said it received approval from the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) for conducting the trials of the phytopharmaceutical drug in April this year.

'The clinical trials will be conducted across 12 centres in India on 210 patients. The treatment duration for patients will be 10 days. The results of the clinical trials are expected by October 2020,' it added.   Human safety study of AQCH has already been completed and the drug has been found safe at the recommended dose for phase-2 study, Sun Pharma said.

'This is the first phytopharmaceutical drug approved for clinical trials by the DCGI as a potential treatment for COVID-19. AQCH has shown anti-SARS-CoV-2 effects in in-vitro studies conducted in collaboration with ICGEB (International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology), Italy,' Sun Pharma MD Dilip Shanghvi said. These results combined with information on mechanism of action through in-vitro and small animal studies give us the confidence to evaluate this potential treatment option for COVID-19 patients, he added.

AQCH, which is being developed for dengue, has shown a broad antiviral effect in vitro studies and hence is being tested as a potential treatment option for COVID-19, Sun Pharma said.

'Our efforts to develop a safe, effective, and affordable drug against dengue started about 13 years ago. The collaborating team quickly initiated studies for the development of a drug against COVID-19,' Department of Biotechnology Secretary Renu Swarup said.

Stating that Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has had a close association with the Indian pharma industry, CSIR DG Shekhar C Mande said the council 'welcomes this collaboration with Sun Pharma in taking forward AQCH into clinical trials for COVID-19 patients. This collaboration aligns with our scientific rationale for the quickest way to develop drugs against SARS-CoV-2'.

Shares of Sun Pharmaceutical Industries closed at Rs 494.15 on the BSE, down 0.17 per cent over the previous day. PTI AKT ANZ MKJ