Aspen Pharmacare says it has already been approached by the South African government  and its global partners on its capability and capacity to manufacture and distribute the steroid dexamethasone for use in COVID-19 patients with serious respiratory complications both locally and in the rest of Africa. The South African-based international pharmaceutical company yesterday confirmed that it owns rights to the product and distributes both dexamethasone injectables and tablets locally and in several other countries. This follows the announcement by the chief investigators of the RECOVERY trail aimed at testing potential therapies for COVID-19 that their research has shown that dexamethasone could cut the number of deaths in patients with severe illness by up to one third.

In an interview with 702 presenter, Joanne Joseph, Aspen CEO Stephen Saad said the company was only made aware of what has been described as a “breakthrough” in the treatment of  seriously ill COVID-19 patients when the RECOVERY trial researchers, Profs Peter Horby and Martin Landray announced their findings on dexamethasone.

Saad said the product is registered across Europe, Australia and South Africa and that the company was fortunate to have a backup in stock as with all its other drugs to ensure that the medicine needs of  clients locally and abroad are met during the coronavirus pandemic.  He said the company was now trying to establish what the global demand will be to ramp up its manufacturing and distribution capabilities. 

He however cautioned that there have been many false starts in finding therapies for COVID-19 which have led to panic buying and swings in demand. According to Saad, he is concerned that a drastic increase in demand could impact on patients’ access to the drug who need it for other conditions such as cancer, asthma and allergy.

Saad said the active ingredients of dexamethasone was easy to source and that the product was cheap at around R50 for an injection and around R3 or R4 per tablet.

In the dexamethasone study, COVID-19 patients with severe respiratory symptoms received, in addition to other medications, a low to moderate dose of 6mg once a day either orally or by injection for 10 days.

The Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on COVID-19 has issued an advisory pertaining to the clinical applications of the study results in South Africa. They however stressed that the advisory is based on the preliminary statement by the RECOVERY Trial investigators and that it may be subject to change following review of the full publication of the results. The advisory is available on:

Business Day reports that Aspen’s share price was 9.3% stronger at R153 at close of trade yesterday, the highest since January 24, 2019, giving it a market value of R70-billion.