Indian maker of syrup linked to Uzbekistan deaths halts production; facility inspected

By Sakshi Dayal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -India's drug regulator said on Thursday that it had inspected a facility that made a cough syrup linked to deaths of 19 children in Uzbekistan and promised more action based on its findings.

A legal representative of Marion Biotech, the Indian maker of the Dok-1 Max syrup, said the company regretted the deaths and has halted its production.

The regulator reviewed the company's Noida facility in the Uttar Pradesh state and is in regular touch with its Uzbekistan counterpart, the Indian health ministry said in a statement.

"The samples of the cough syrup have been taken from the manufacturing premises and sent to Regional Drugs Testing Laboratory, Chandigarh for testing," the ministry said.

Uzbekistan's health ministry has said that at least 18 children in Samarkand city died after consuming the syrup manufactured by the Indian drugmaker. On Thursday, Uzbek news site report.uz reported another death of a one-year-old, citing regional prosecutor's office.

Officials in the Samarkand region had initially not reported the deaths to the ministry, the news site said, citing health minister Bekhzod Musayevand.

The report, also citing the minister, added that several people involved in registering, importing, and selling the drug have since been arrested.

Indian foreign ministry's spokesman, who described the country's pharmaceutical industry as "a reliable supplier to countries across the world", said such incidents were taken "very seriously."

Those affected by legal action by Uzbek authorities, including Marion Biotech's local representative, would get "necessary consular assistance," Arindam Bagchi told a news briefing without elaborating.

The Uzbek ministry earlier said that seven employees were dismissed following a probe into the matter and "disciplinary measures" were taken against some specialists.

The Dok-1 Max tablets and syrups were also withdrawn from all pharmacies in Uzbekistan, the ministry had added.

The Uzbekistan case follows deaths of at least 70 children in Gambia that had been linked to cough and cold syrups manufactured by New Delhi-based Maiden Pharmaceuticals Ltd. Both the Indian government and the company, however, have denied wrongdoing.

India is known as the 'pharmacy of the world', and has doubled its pharmaceutical exports over the last decade, touching $24.5 billion in the last fiscal year.

The Dok-1 max syrup contained a toxic substance, ethylene glycol, and was administered in doses higher than the standard dose for children either by their parents, who mistook it for an anti-cold remedy, or on the advice of pharmacists, the Uzbekistan ministry said.

India's ministry of chemicals and fertilizers issued an order on Thursday, laying out specifications to regulate the sale of ethylene glycol from the end of March.

(Additional reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov in Tashkent; editing by Sudipto Ganguly and Tomasz Janowski)