The US on Tuesday (June 30) virtually bought all the stocks of the two drugs proven to shorten recovery time for severely ill COVID-19 patients for the next three months, leaving none for the UK, Europe or rest of the world, an article in The Guardian stated.
“They’ve got access to most of the drug supply of remdesivir, so there’s nothing for Europe,” Dr Andrew Hill, senior visiting research fellow at Liverpool University, told The Guardian.
According to medical experts, this move of the US unilaterally taking an action on the drugs and its wider implications could be an indication towards the Donald Trump administrations will to outbid the rest of the world to secure medical supplies for their citizens.
With a vaccine for the novel coronavirus still a far-fetched dream, media reports stated that the US has bought over 50,000 doses of remdesivir, the first drug approved by authorities to treat COVID-19.
The drug, developed by Gilead Sciences, will be sold for US$2,340 for a typical treatment course for people covered by government health programmes in the United States and other developed countries, the firm said.
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Gilead Sciences announced the price on Monday for remdesivir, and said the price would be US$3,120 for patients with private insurance.
“The amount that patients pay out of pocket depends on insurance, income and other factors. We’re in uncharted territory with pricing a new medicine, a novel medicine, in a pandemic,” Gilead’s chief executive, Dan ODay, told The Associated Press.
“We believe that we had to really deviate from the normal circumstances and price the drug to ensure wide access rather than based solely on value to patients,” he said.
According to a report in The Guardian, the first 140,000 doses, supplied to drug trials around the world, have been used up and now the US has brought about 90 pr cent of the production of August and September and all of July.
“President Trump has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorised therapeutic for COVID-19. To the extent possible, we want to ensure 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 therapeutics for COVID-19 and secure access to these options for the American people,” the US health and human services secretary, Alex Azar, was quoted by The Guardian as saying.
In the US, federal health officials have allocated the limited supply to states, but that agreement with Gilead will end after September.
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They said Monday that the government has secured more than 5,00,000 additional courses that Gilead will produce starting in July to supply to hospitals through September, and stressed that that does not mean the government actually was acquiring that much, just ensuring the availability.
“We should have sufficient supply … but we have to make sure it’s in the right place at the right time,” ODay said.
In 127 poor or middle-income countries, Gilead is allowing generic makers to supply the drug; two countries are doing that for around US$600 per treatment course.
Remdesivir’s price has been highly anticipated since it became the first medicine to show benefit in the pandemic, which has killed more than half a million people globally in six months.
The drug, given through an IV, interferes with the coronaviruss ability to copy its genetic material.
In a US government-led study, remdesivir shortened recovery time by 31 per cent 11 days on average versus 15 days for those given just usual care. It had not improved survival, according to preliminary results after two weeks of followup; results after four weeks are expected soon.
The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, a nonprofit group that analyzes drug prices, said remdesivir would be cost-effective in a range of US$4,580 to US$5,080 if it saved lives. But recent news that a cheap steroid called dexamethasone improves survival means remdesivir should be priced between US$2,520 and US$2,800, the group said.
This is a high price for a drug that has not been shown to reduce mortality, Dr Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic said in an email.
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“Given the serious nature of the pandemic, I would prefer that the government take over production and distribute the drug for free. It was developed using significant taxpayer funding,” he said.
Peter Maybarduk, a lawyer at the consumer group Public Citizen, called the price an outrage.
“Remdesivir should be in the public domain because the drug received at least US$70 million in public funding toward its development,” he said.
“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 in an email.
(With inputs from agencies)