Row over rifampicin

THE STAKES are high in the rifampicin (a new anti-TB drug) sweepstakes. Lupin Laboratories presently dominates the market, which, according to the ministry of chemicals, did a business of Rs 236 crore during 1992-93. To break the monopoly, which enables Lupin to charge as much as 15 per cent more than the DPCO price of Rs 5,975 per kg for rifampicin, five Indian companies set up a consortium called Pharma Business Group. Lupin makes the drug from an intermediate stage; Pharma planned to do it from the basic stage. But the venture ran aground as its cost of manufacture was more than the cost of intermediates. To help the consortium, the government recently banned imports of rifampicin intermediates and later imposed a 10 per cent duty. But Lupin's Korean collaborators helped it out by halving the price of the intermediates they supply. Pharma's future remains murky while a tussle continues between the ministries of chemicals and of finance over the amount duty to be imposed on rifampicin intermediates.