Indian company Natco Pharma has entered a royalty-free, non-exclusive, voluntary licensing agreement with Eli Lilly to produce and market the latter’s drug, baricitinib, as a Covid-19 treatment in the country.

With this development, Natco withdrew its application to the Indian Patent Office for compulsory licence against Lilly for the drug to treat Covid-19.

Developed by Incyte and licenced to Lilly, baricitinib is an oral Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor that is currently registered in India for treating moderate to severely active rheumatoid arthritis.

Earlier this month, the India Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) granted restricted emergency use for baricitinib 2mg and 4mg tablets along with remdesivir against Covid-19.

The combination is indicated for hospitalised adults with Covid-19, who need supplemental oxygen, invasive mechanical ventilation or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

Last week, Lilly signed similar licensing agreements with Indian drugmakers Cipla, Lupin, Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, MSN Laboratories and Torrent Pharmaceuticals to make the drug available in the country.

In a statement, Lilly said: “Lilly is offering donations of baricitinib to the Indian government through Direct Relief while simultaneously working with local Indian pharmaceutical companies to execute royalty-free voluntary licensing agreements to accelerate the manufacturing and distribution of the medicine in India during the pandemic.”

In the initial stage, the company is donating 400,000 baricitinib tablets to the Indian Government for treating hospitalised Covid-19 patients in the country. Lilly also committed to scaling up the drug supply soon.

Last month, Merck (MSD) signed non-exclusive voluntary licensing agreements with five Indian generics manufacturers to help India with the increased supply of molnupiravir, the investigational oral Covid-19 drug it is developing alongside Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, amid the country’s surge of coronavirus cases.