India Cracks Down on Pharma Firm Marion Linked to Uzbekistan Deaths

By Saurabh Sharma and Sakshi Dayal

March 06, 2023

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian police on Friday arrested three employees of a pharmaceutical firm whose cough syrups were linked to the deaths of 19 children in Uzbekistan, a police officer said, as the country looks to recover from recent setbacks to the industry.

The arrests were made after tests by an Indian government laboratory found 22 drug samples of Marion Biotech Pvt Ltd, based near New Delhi, "adulterated and spurious," according to a police document seen by Reuters.

Police said they arrested Marion's head of operations and two chemists on the basis of a complaint received by an inspector of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), which investigated the company three times in December and once in January.

"The adulterated and spurious drugs can cause grievous hurt to the public and it is suspected that related material/records may be disposed of," CDSCO drug inspector Asheesh Kaundal said in his complaint.

Two Marion directors were "out of the country and will be arrested as soon as they land in India," senior police official Ram Badan Singh told Reuters.

The company did not answer calls from Reuters and did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Uzbekistan in December said the children died after consuming Marion's cough syrups. India suspended Marion's production soon after.

Analysis by Uzbekistan's health ministry showed the syrups, Ambronol and DOK-1 Max, contained a toxin, ethylene glycol. The syrups were administered in doses higher than the standard for children, either by their parents, who mistook it for an anti-cold remedy, or on the advice of pharmacists, according to the analysis.

The same toxin was found in cough syrups exported to Gambia by another Indian company, Maiden Pharmaceuticals.

India in October suspended production at Maiden for violations of manufacturing standards after the World Health Organization said four of its cough syrups may have killed dozens of children in Gambia.

The company has denied that its drugs were at fault for the deaths in Gambia and tests by an Indian government laboratory found there were no toxins in them.

An Indian court last month sentenced two Maiden executives to two and a half years in jail for exporting shoddy drugs to Vietnam a decade ago.

The deaths in Gambia and Uzbekistan have dented the image of the $41 billion pharmaceutical industry in India, which is known as the "pharmacy of the world."

(Reporting by Sakshi Dayal and Saurabh Sharma; Editing by Krishna N. Das and Mark Porter)