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Potential New Lead in Indian Cough Syrup Mystery Points to Middleman

An individual in Mumbai who wishes to remain anonymous supplied a key ingredient used in Indian-made cough syrups that have been linked to the deaths of more than 70 children in Gambia,

according to a chemicals trader involved in the supply chain. The syrups, made by Indian manufacturer Maiden Pharmaceuticals Ltd, contained toxic chemicals, including ethylene glycol (EG) and diethylene glycol (DEG) that are used in car brake fluid but can be used as a substitute for propylene glycol (PG), which is a key base of syrupy medicines because they are cheaper.

The children who died were mostly under age 5 and died of acute kidney injury. India’s drugs regulator said in December that the propylene glycol used in the syrups came from Goel Pharma Chem, a Delhi-based pharma-supplies company, and was “recorded to have been imported” from South Korean manufacturer SKC Co Ltd.

Sharad Goel, the owner of Goel Pharma Chem, said that he bought the ingredient in sealed barrels from an importer in Mumbai but did not directly buy it from SKC. SKC denies ever having supplied PG to Goel or Maiden. The search for a culprit has been stymied by a lack of information from India, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Maiden Pharmaceuticals denies wrongdoing, and its boss, Naresh Kumar Goyal, has not responded to further questions on this issue.

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