Indian drugmakers soar on flu panic

GlaxoSmithKline and Roche may not be the only drugmakers to profit off a pandemic-fueled appetite for antiviral drugs. As the H1N1 flu penetrates India, domestic pharma companies are watching their stocks soar. That's despite the fact that analysts expect antiflu meds to have a less-than-enormous impact on their earnings.

Here's the setting: More than 850 people have tested positive for the pandemic virus, with about 340 in hospital and a death toll of about 10. As in most other countries, those stats far understate the real impact of flu. And it's not just the direct effect of the virus; there's fear, too. When the country's first death was announced, that patient's hometown went into a panic. Worried people are thronging to hospitals.

The Indian government is stockpiling 20 million doses of Tamiflu copies made by Ranbaxy Laboratories, Cipla, Strides and Hetero under compulsory license. As the eighth death was reported yesterday, several of those drugmakers saw their shares rise between 5 percent and 19 percent. And while stock-watchers expect that stockpiling won't add much to drugmakers' bottom lines, antiviral sales through private hospitals--which the government is now considering--could change the calculations.

Three Indian companies are working on a vaccine, but only one has started animal trials. In the meantime, the country plans to import vaccine from elsewhere, with the first doses going to healthcare workers.

- check out the coverage from Reuters
- see the Xinhua story
- read more in the Economic Times