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US buys nearly all of Covid-19 drug remdesivir

The US is buying nearly all the next three months’ projected production of Covid-19 treatment remdesivir from US manufacturer Gilead.

The US health department announced on Tuesday it had agreed to buy 500,000 doses for use in American hospitals.

Tests suggest remdesivir cuts recovery times, though it is not yet clear if it improves survival rates.

Gilead did sign a licensing deal in May for production outside the US but it is still in its early stages.

“President Trump has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorised therapeutic for Covid-19,” Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

A course of treatment in the US will cost $2,340 (£1,900).

Nine companies can make the drug under licence outside the US for distribution in 127 mostly poorer countries, and the cost is lower. But the project is still in its early stages.

Additional quantities are being manufactured for use in clinical trials.

But critics say the US move to buy up so much stock from Gilead itself undermines international co-operation on Covid, given that other countries have taken part in trials of remdesivir, originally an anti-viral against Ebola.

“The trial that gave the result that allowed remdesivir to sell their drug wasn’t just done in the US. There were patients participating through other European countries, in the UK as well, and internationally, Mexico and other places,” Oxford University’s Prof Peter Horby told BBC Radio 4.

He said the move also had implications for any possible future vaccine, with the need for “a much stronger framework if we are going to develop these things and they’re going to be used for national emergencies”.

Senior Sussex University lecturer, Ohid Yaqub, said: “It so clearly signals an unwillingness to co-operate with other countries and the chilling effect this has on international agreements about intellectual property rights.”

Some in the US have criticised the purchase price, as taxpayer money had helped fund remdesivir’s development.

Short supply

By Richard Warry, BBC News

While there is international concern about the US buying up almost all supplies of remdesivir, we must remember that Gilead is a US company, and that the country has recorded the highest number of cases and deaths from Covid-19.

Under US law, export of drugs considered essential to treatment of patients in a public health emergency can be banned – and many other countries, including the UK, have similar legal provisions.

Gilead has put in place voluntary licensing agreements with a number of manufacturers around the world with the aim of producing the drug for use in developing nations.

In extremis, there is also a compulsory licensing mechanism which could allow countries to ignore Gilead’s intellectual property rights, and manufacture their own generic versions of the drug.

However, the US deal will inevitably mean that for the next three months at least the drug – one of only two that have so far been of proven benefit for patients who are seriously ill with Covid-19 – will be in short supply in many other countries. The UK, however, says it currently has sufficient stocks for patients who need it.

The US is among several countries to approve remdesivir for use in combating Covid-19.

The European Union is expected to give approval this week, according to Germany’s health ministry.

Germany says it has sufficient supplies of the drug and expects to be able to acquire more from Gilead in the future.

In the UK, the Department of Health said it had enough to treat every National Health Service patient who needed it.

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US buys nearly all stocks of coronavirus drug remdesivir

Purchase of some 500,000 treatment courses practically means no other country can buy drug for next three months.

The United States has bought nearly all the available global supplies for the next three months of anti-viral drug remdesivir, one of two drugs that have proven to be effective against COVID-19.

The US Department of Health Services (HHS) announced on Monday it had secured more than 500,000 treatment courses of remdesivir from drugmaker Gilead Sciences for US hospitals until September.

The stocks make up 100 percent of Gilead’s projected production for July and 90 percent each for August and September.

“President [Donald] Trump has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorised therapeutic for COVID-19,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

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

Remdesivir, which is administered intravenously in hospital, is the first drug to show improvement in COVID-19 patients in formal clinical trials, and new information about its efficacy is being closely watched around the world, as nations battle the coronavirus pandemic.

In May, US regulators allowed the emergency use of the experimental drug that appears to help some patients recover faster. 

The drug has received full approval by Japanese health regulators. US approval requires a time-consuming Food and Drug Administration review, but Emergency Use Authorisations can be used in a health crisis when other options are not available.

There are currently no US approvals for treatments or vaccines for the new coronavirus that has infected more than 10 million people and killed nearly 500,000 worldwide, including more than 127,000 deaths in the US.

Dozens of companies are working on a variety of treatment and vaccine approaches.

Remdesivir, which previously failed as a treatment for Ebola, is designed to disable the mechanism by which certain viruses, including the new coronavirus, make copies of themselves and potentially overwhelm their host’s immune system.

On Monday, Gilead said it would price remdesivir at $2,340 per patient in the US and other wealthier nations. In 127 poor or middle-income countries, Gilead is allowing generic makers to supply the drug.

Last month, according to initial findings, a cheap and widely-used steroid called dexamethasone was proven to save lives among critically ill COVID-19 patients in what scientists and the World Health Organization hailed as a breakthrough in the fight against the virus.

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Coronavirus: US buys up almost entire world supply of COVID-19 drug Remdesivir

The US has bought up almost the entire global supply of one of two drugs proven to treat coronavirus.

Remdesivir, which was developed to treat Ebola, is produced almost exclusively by US pharmaceutical giant Gilead and costs around £430 ($532) for a treatment course of six doses.

According to the United States Department of Health Human Services (HHS), the US has already secured the entire global supply of the drug for July and 90% of stocks available for August and September.

This means Remdesivir will not be available for use on patients in the UK and Europe until October, Dr Andrew Hill, a senior visiting research fellow at Liverpool University told Sky News.

He said: “This deal that’s been struck by America means that people with COVID-19 in the UK can’t get access to these treatments that would get them out of hospital quickly and might improve their chances of survival.

“So far, we know that for the next three months there will be no supplies of Remdesivir – America will take the drugs and we won’t have access to them. That’s the case in the UK and Europe.”

Low and middle-income countries can produce generic versions of the drug, but are unable to sell them to Europe because Gilead has a patent for it, he added.

It comes after health officials warned the number of new US cases reported each day could hit 100,000 after a spike in infections.

Trials of the antiviral medicine on coronavirus patients have showed it reduces the length of time they experience symptoms from 15 to 11 days by stopping the virus reproducing.

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