“They have access to most of the drug supply [of remdesivir], so there is nothing for Europe, “said Dr. Andrew Hill, senior visiting researcher at the University of Liverpool.
Remdesivir, the first drug approved by the US authorities to treat Covid-19, is manufactured by Gilead and has been shown to help people recover from the disease faster. The first 140,000 doses supplied to drug trials worldwide have been used up. The Trump administration has now purchased more than 500,000 doses, all of Gilead’s production for July and 90% of August and September.
“President Trump has reached an incredible agreement to guarantee Americans access to the first authorized therapy for Covid-19,” said US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar. “Whenever possible, we want to make sure that any American patient who needs remdesivir can get it. The Trump administration is doing everything in our power to learn more about life-saving therapies for Covid-19 and to secure access to these options for the American people. “
The drug, which was invented for Ebola but has not worked, is patented by Gilead, which means that no other company in wealthy countries can manufacture it. The cost is around $ 3,200 per six-dose treatment, according to the US government release.
The deal was announced as it became clear that the pandemic in the United States was out of control. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading public health expert and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Senate that the United States is shrinking.
“We are going in the wrong direction,” said Fauci. Last week, the United States recorded a new daily record of 40,000 new cases of coronavirus in one day. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we went up to 100,000 a day if it didn’t work out,” he said. He could not provide an estimated number of deaths, but said, “This is going to be very worrying, I guarantee it. ”
The United States has recorded more than 2.5 million confirmed cases of Covid-19. Some states have lifted the restrictions and then have to restrict again. On Monday, the Governor of Arizona ordered the closure of bars, cinemas, gymnasiums and water parks for a month, weeks after they reopened. Texas, Florida and California, all of which are seeing increases in cases, have also reimposed the restrictions.
The purchase of the global supply of remdesivir is not just a reaction to the increasing number of deaths and spread. The United States has adopted an “America First” attitude throughout the global pandemic.
In May, French manufacturer Sanofi said the United States would have first access to its Covid vaccine if it worked. Its CEO, Paul Hudson, reportedly said, “The US government is entitled to the biggest preorder because it is invested to take the risk,” and, he added, the United States expected that “if we help you make the at-risk doses, we expect to receive the doses first”. Later, he backed down under pressure from the French government.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned that there could be unintended negative consequences if the United States continued to outbid its allies. “We know it is in our interest to both work together and cooperate to keep our citizens safe,” he said. The Trump administration also invoked the Defense Production Act to prevent the shipment abroad of certain medical products manufactured in the United States.
However, nothing seems to be preventing the United States from trapping the remdesivir market. “This is the first major drug approved, and where is the access mechanism?” said Dr. Hill. “Again, we are at the bottom of the queue. ”
The drug has been on the lookout for the past five months, Hill said, but there was no mechanism to secure supplies outside of the United States. “Imagine it was a vaccine,” he said. “It would be a firestorm. But it may be a taste of things to come. ”
Remdesivir would get patients out of the hospital faster, reducing the burden on the NHS, and could improve survival, said Hill, although this has not yet been shown in trials, as is case with the other successful treatment, the steroid dexamethasone. There has been no attempt to buy global stocks of dexamethasone because there is no need for it – the drug is 60 years old, inexpensive, and readily available everywhere.
Hill said there is a way for the UK to secure the supply of this and other medicines during the pandemic, through what is called a compulsory license, which takes precedence over property rights intellectual of the company. This would allow the UK government to buy from generic manufacturers in Bangladesh or India, where Gilead’s patent is not recognized.
The UK has always supported patents, supporting the pharmaceutical companies’ argument that they need their 20-year monopoly to recover the money they have invested in research and development. But other countries have expressed interest in compulsory licenses. “It’s about knowing what countries are willing to do if this becomes a problem,” said Hill.