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 used to treat coronavirus which UK patients helped test, Sky News reports.
Remdesivir, which was developed to treat Ebola, is produced almost exclusively by US pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences – and it has been priced at $2,340 (£1,892) per patient in wealthier nations.
The company has agreed to send nearly all of its supply of the drug to the US over the next three months.
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, said.
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.”
UK patients took part in the clinical trials that showed that the drug worked, Dr Hill said. “A lot of drugs haven’t worked, so I think the people in Britain deserve something in return from the United States,” he said.
“We have to have equality between countries. We have to have the ability of UK health authorities to access these drugs in return for taking part in these studies and people risking their own health.
“Remdesivir is a drug which gets people better faster, gets them out of hospital, it might improve survival.
“It is the only thing we have, and if we can’t get it from the US, we are not allowed to get it from Indian factories that are making it, there is a way round this.”
He said 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.
Dr Hill said the UK could issue “a compulsory licence” which would allow the government to access medicines from abroad and “bring the drug in from India, Bangladesh and other countries where it is being made”.
“In the meantime, there is a legal way to get the drug in through buyers clubs and we have done this for HIV, hepatitis and cystic fibrosis,” he said. “People can get their own supplies from foreign countries and that is perfectly legal.”
He continued: “You think about this for a treatment. What about if there is a vaccine? What if a vaccine is restricted to the US only?
“This is a taste of things to come and it could get worse,” he warned.
“We have to decide whether we want to be strong with the US, or people with COVID-19 suffer, recover more slowly and potentially die faster.”
He said there is a “sacrosanct” ethical agreement called the Declaration of Helsinki, whereby if people take part in a clinical trial in a country, they have to have a mechanism to access that drug after it has been approved.
“I think that contract is in question,” he added.
The move by the United States comes after health officials warned the number of new cases reported each day could hit 100,000 in the country 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.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has described the use of remdesivir on COVID patients as the “biggest step forward in the treatment of coronavirus since the crisis began”.
NHS bosses had hoped to roll it out to adults and teenagers suffering severe symptoms in UK hospitals, but the US move appears to have put this on hold.
Another drug that appears to lessen symptoms in coronavirus patients is a common steroid called dexamethasone.
But unlike remdesivir, it is cheap to produce and widely available across the globe.
Business minister Nadhim Zahawi said governments and firms should cooperate to ensure access to coronavirus treatments.
Mr Zahawi said the UK had “rightly” stockpiled dexamethasone, but suggested cooperation rather than competition was the way forward.
“We deliberately made sure that we had enough stock of dexamethasone, rightly so,” he said.
“But we also want to cooperate because the best outcome for the whole world is that we work together.”
He pointed to deals struck by AstraZeneca to supply a vaccine around the world if the Oxford team’s work is successful.
“By attempting to compete, I think we ultimately undermine all of our strategies,” he said.
“Much better to work together than to work to undermine each other.”
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