Cough syrup deaths: Maiden Pharma denies tampering with tests in probe of cough syrup deaths

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India’s Maiden Pharmaceuticals, whose cough syrups have been linked to the deaths of children in Gambia, on Saturday denied it had tampered with test samples or bribed officials to do so, as alleged in a complaint under investigation by local health officials.

An investigator with the state of Haryana’s Food and Drug Administration told Reuters on Friday he was close to finishing a probe into whether a state drug regulator was bribed to switch samples, tested by the Indian government, that contradicted the World Health Organization’s findings of toxic substances in the cough syrups.

“I have never changed the sample,” Maiden founder Naresh Kumar Goyal told Reuters. “There is no evidence and no proof against us. I have not given a bribe.”

He said that neither he nor any representative of his company had been called to appear in front of the investigator, Gagandeep Singh, joint director of the state agency.

Goyal said a competitor was behind the complaint but did not name them.

Singh declined to comment on Goyal’s statement. The WHO has linked syrups made by Maiden to the deaths of 70 children in Gambia last year, but India’s government says subsequent tests at an Indian government laboratory showed the syrups were not toxic. Singh told Reuters on Friday that his agency had received a comprehensive and exhaustive complaint that the state’s drug regulator, in return for a bribe of 50 million Indian rupees ($600,000), helped to switch test samples before they were delivered to the Indian laboratory.

The regulator, Manmohan Taneja, did not respond to phone calls and electronic messages seeking comment. He told Reuters in October that the complaint behind the bribery probe was a “fake complaint from a fake person” and that “anyone can send any fake complaint against anyone”.

Reuters was unable to independently establish that any bribes were paid.

Goyal said his factory, which was closed by the government in October 2022 after the Gambia deaths came to light, was now under renovation and he had asked the authorities to inspect the facility so that it could be reopened.

“There was no fault in the factory, but since they pointed out some things, we have rectified them,” he said. “We are trying our best, we are pursuing the matter with the concerned officers. That’s all we can do.”

India’s health ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Two sources with direct knowledge of the matter said the Indian government was in no hurry to reopen any of the three Indian pharmaceutical factories, including Maiden’s factory in Haryana state, linked to at least 141 deaths since last year in Gambia, Uzbekistan and Cameroon. One of the sources added that no decision was likely before next May’s general election, given the risk of a negative public reaction.

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