• The medicine blamed for the deaths of 19 children in Uzbekistan was found to contain a component used in antifreeze, Reuters said

NEW DELHI (Agencies): The Indian pharmaceutical firm Marion Biotech, whose cough syrups fatally poisoned 19 children in Uzbekistan last year, used a toxic industrial-grade ingredient in the medicine, Reuters has reported, citing two sources.

The company based in the state of Uttar Pradesh bought the chemical – propylene glycol – from a Delhi-based trader, Maya Chemtech India, which did not have a license to sell pharmaceutical ingredients and only “dealt in industrial-grade,” the news agency said.

According to sources close to the ongoing investigation, Marion bought commercial-grade propylene glycol rather than the legitimate pharmaceutical version.

The substance is widely used in liquid detergents, antifreeze, paints and coatings, and to enhance the effectiveness of pesticides. The pharma company allegedly did not test the component before using it in the syrups.

An analysis conducted by Uzbekistan’s Health Ministry has confirmed that Marion’s cough syrups – Ambronol and DOK-1 Max – also contained unacceptable amounts of the toxins diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol.

In January 2023, the Central Asian nation arrested four people for their alleged involvement the 19 child deaths, including two executives at a company that imported the drug manufactured by Marion.

A similar tragedy occured in The Gambia, where 66 children died last year after being given a cough syrup made by another Indian company. On June 1 this year, India introduced mandatory tests of cough syrups meant for export in government-run laboratories.

The unethical practices have raised concerns about safety standards in India’s pharmaceutical industry, which generated revenue of $41 billion in 2021.

New Delhi launched an inquiry into the Uzbekistan case in December 2022, and in March this year, the Uttar Pradesh Ministry of Food and Drug Safety cancelled Marion Biotech’s manufacturing license. An Indian government laboratory stated that 22 out of 33 samples of Marion Biotech’s cough syrup were found to be adulterated with ethylene glycol.

In March, three employees of Marion were arrested after a complaint was filed by a drugs inspector of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization. Marion had previously denied any wrongdoing.

Drug Controller General of India Rajeev Raghuvanshi also directed state drug regulators to ensure that domestic medicine producers do not procure propylene glycol from Marion’s suppler, Maya Chemtech. A source in Maya told Reuters that the company itself was not facing charges, although an investigation was ongoing. The raw materials supplier claimed it did not sell the component to Marion for pharmaceutical products, but for cosmetics.

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