Aspen says it has capacity to meet demand for dexamethasone

A box of dexamethasone injection ampoules is photographed at a chemists shop in London
Dexamethasone A box of dexamethasone injection ampoules is photographed at a chemists shop in London
Image: Arman SOLDIN / AFP

Pharmaceutical giant Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd said on Monday the company had sufficient local capacity to produce injections to meet any demand surge for dexamethasone.

The 60-year-old drug dexamethasone has been found to be able to save the lives of COVID-19 patients, scientists at University of Oxford said last week, calling the discovery a "major breakthrough".

Aspen, South Africa's biggest supplier of drugs with a market share of 22% in sub-Saharan Africa, manufactures both the injectable and tablet forms of the drug, mainly used for treatment of tumours, asthma and other respiratory ailments.

"Aspen fortunately has necessary capacity ... to ramp up considerably," said Stephen Saad, Group Chief Executive of Aspen, referring to its South African facilities.

The drug can get to market quickly as it is already registered, Saad said in an emailed reply to Reuters questions.

South Africa, however, does not have capacity for tablets which has to be sourced from Aspen's global supply network, he said.

Tablet production will be increased from its German plant, which has sufficient scope for increased capacity, he said.

Aspen's shares were up 3.38% on Monday after hitting a 19-month high after the news. The broader index was up 0.16%.

The health ministry said on Friday the government currently had a stock of 300,000 ampoules of dexamethasone and can secure supplies of the drug from local players.

The government has contacted Aspen to source the drug not only for South Africa but for rest of the continent, Saad said.

The health ministry did not reply to an emailed request for comment.

Aspen said it had not entered into any price negotiations with the government, but being a cheap drug - with the injectable form at around 10 rand each and tablets at about 2 rand - the price would not be a major issue.

"Our full focus has been on meeting patients need globally," the chief executive said.

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