Remdesivir: US buys up almost entire world supply of coronavirus drug

American purchase of 500,000 doses means drug will likely be scarce in rest of the world for months

Tom Barnes
Wednesday 01 July 2020 02:55 BST
US authorises use of anti-viral drug remdesivir for coronavirus patients

The US has effectively secured the world’s supply of one of only two drugs proven to help treat coronavirus.

Remdesivir, which has previously been used to fight Ebola but has now been found to reduce recovery times among Covid-19 patients, is exclusively manufactured by pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) has announced it has bought up more than 500,000 doses of the drug.

The figure equates to Gilead’s entire production for July, as well as 90 per cent of its production in both August and September.

The US’s decision to stockpile the drug means there will likely be little supply in the rest of the world for several months.

HSS secretary Alex Azar, hailed the move, saying president Donald Trump had struck an “amazing deal”.

“To the extent possible, we want to ensure that any American patient who needs remdesivir can get it,” Mr Azar added.

“The Trump Administration is doing everything in our power to learn more about life-saving therapeutics for Covid-19 and secure access to these options for the American people.”

Gilead has been criticised in recent days for its decision to charge $2,340 (£1,990) for a typical remdesivir treatment course for people covered by government health programmes in the US and other developed countries.

In 127 poor or middle-income countries, the company is allowing generic makers to supply the drug; two countries are doing that for around $600 per treatment course.

Despite its ability to shorten the recovery times of some coronavirus patients, remdesivir has not been found to significantly improve an individual’s chances of surviving the disease.

“We’re in uncharted territory with pricing a new medicine, a novel medicine, in a pandemic,” Gilead’s chief executive, Dan O’Day, said.

He added the company believed it had to “really deviate from the normal circumstances” and price the drug to ensure wide access rather than based solely on value to patients.

But Peter Maybarduk, a lawyer at the consumer group Public Citizen, called the pricing “an outrage”.

“Remdesivir should be in the public domain” because the drug received at least $70m in public funding towards its development, he added.

“The price puts to rest any notion that drug companies will ‘do the right thing’ because it is a pandemic,” Dr Peter Bach, a health policy expert at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York said.

“The price might have been fine if the company had demonstrated that the treatment saved lives. It didn’t.”

Earlier this month, researchers at the University of Oxford announced the cheap steroid dexamethasone had been found in studies to reduce the risk of death in coronavirus patients with severe respiratory complications by up to one-third.

Scientists working on the drug trial found it could benefit patients on ventilators or oxygen, but had no effect on those who did not need help breathing.

Additional reporting by AP

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