Bengal-based hydroxychloroquine maker India’s oldest pharmaceutical

With India at the forefront as the largest manufacturer of the drug, it has received requests from over 30 countries, including the US, Spain, Brazil, Israel for its shipment

Bengal Works was turned into a company called BCPL by Ray with a facility in Maniktala in Kolkata. In the coming years, the company saw a huge growth adding more facilities in the state and in Mumbai.

Kolkata based Bengal Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals Limited (BCPL), which received the approval to produce the sought after hydroxychloroquine for treatment of COVID 19 on April 10, is the first pharmaceutical company to have been established in India.

Founded in 1901 by Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray who transformed it from a laboratory to a company, the public sector unit can produce up to 10 lakh tablets per day, once they source the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API).

BCPL which was producing chloroquine phosphate is the only government undertaking to have a license to produce antimalarial drugs and was granted a license by the Directorate of Drug Control, Government of West Bengal to manufacture hydroxychloroquine in an overnight decision.

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Currently, Hydroxychloroquine is the most sought after drug across the world.

The anti-malarial drug has been touted as the game-changer while tackling COVID-19, while a consensus over its effectiveness in the field of medicine is still awaited.

With India at the forefront as the largest manufacturer of the drug, it has received requests from over 30 countries, including the US, Spain, Brazil, Israel for its shipment.

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With BCPL stepping in, the manufacturing capacity is excepted to shoot up.

The father of Indian chemistry behind BCPL

Ray who was born on August 2, 1861, in Jessore, obtained a degree in Chemistry from Edinburgh University. He began teaching Chemistry at the Presidency College in Kolkata in 1897, and he set up an entrepreneurial activity in 1892 in the form of a laboratory.

Named Bengal Chemical Works, the exercise focused on making herbal products that were presented in the science congress in the same decade.

In 1896, Ray presented his paper on the making of mercurous nitrite, a new stable chemical compound. His work paved way for similar investigations and research.

Bengal Works was turned into a company called BCPL by Ray with a facility in Maniktala in Kolkata. In the coming years, the company saw a huge growth adding more facilities in the state and in Mumbai.

Ray’s works inspired many who later turned new chapters in the history of research in the country. A paper called ‘Chemical Researches of Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray’ published in the Indian Journal of History of Science in 2014 links the inspiration from him and young bright minds.

The paper said that it led to the emergence of the first school of chemistry in the country. The article noted,”It has been said, His laboratory is the nursery from which issue forth the young chemists of new India”.

Only some of the ‘young men’ noted above did their doctoral work with Prafulla Chandra, others worked with him on one or two projects and then proceeded elsewhere, often abroad for higher studies, and yet others which included some bright physicists were simply deeply influenced by his ways and adhered to him.

Many of them later played major roles in post-independence Indian science.

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On his passing away on June 16, 1944, Nature magazine wrote, “Sir Prafulla was more than anyone else responsible for the great development of scientific research in India during the past fifty years.”’

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