A lab technician inspects filled vials of investigational coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment drug remdesivir at a Gilead…
FILE - A lab technician inspects filled vials of coronavirus disease treatment drug remdesivir at a Gilead Sciences facility in La Verne, Calif., March 11, 2020.

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan announced Friday that it would begin “within weeks” production and export of the antiviral drug remdesivir for treating COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

As of Friday afternoon EDT, according to Johns Hopkins University statistics, the pandemic had killed more than 306,000 people and infected more than 4.5 million worldwide since late in 2019, when it struck first in China.

Zafar Mirza, Pakistan’s health minister, told reporters in Islamabad that a local pharmaceutical company, Ferozons Laboratories Ltd., would make the medicine in partnership with America’s Gilead, which developed remdesivir.

He noted that Pakistan would be one of only three countries to produce and export the drug.

"The manufacturing of the injectable medicine will start within six to eight weeks and it will be available not only for coronavirus patients in Pakistan, but it will also be exported to 127 countries,” Mirza said.

Regulators in America have allowed emergency use of remdesivir, which appeared to help some coronavirus patients recover faster in clinical trials.

FILE - Gilead Sciences Inc. pharmaceutical company is pictured in Oceanside, Calif.

Four firms in India

The U.S. pharmaceutical company has also signed agreements with four drugmakers in neighboring India to help manufacture and supply the drug to those countries.

Under the “nonexclusive licensing” pacts with the South Asian partners, Gilead said, the companies all will have the "right to receive a technology transfer of the Gilead manufacturing process for remdesivir to enable them to scale up their production quickly.”

Osman Khalid Waheed, the chief executive of the Pakistani pharmaceutical company, speaking alongside Mirza, said once production begins, the medicine will be exported to both developed and low-income nations.

“We are committed together with Gilead to produce the medicine at minimum cost and make it most accessible in the developing world,” Waheed said.

FILE - Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks to The Associated Press, in Islamabad, March 16, 2020.

Pakistan, with a population of 220 million, has confirmed that more than 37,000 people have contracted the coronavirus and more than 800 of them have died since the country detected the outbreak nearly three months ago.

Relaxing lockdown

Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed Friday to further relax a nationwide partial lockdown, citing a relatively very low number of infections and deaths as opposed to the earlier official projections.

Khan defended his decision, saying while the virus-related situation remained under control, "about 150 million individuals” across Pakistan, including daily wagers and laborers, could soon begin suffering from starvation because of the economic shutdown.

“Until a vaccine is available, the coronavirus will persist irrespective of a lockdown. Hence, we will have to learn to live with it until then,” he said.

Special Section