World takes stock of Covid-19 drug after US snaps up supplies

Fears of shortages after maker of remdesivir pledges most output to US for next three months

Vials of the drug remdesivir. The European Medicines Agency said  it has recommended authorising the use of anti-viral drug to treat the new coronavirus. Photograph: Ulruch Perrey/AFP via Getty

Vials of the drug remdesivir. The European Medicines Agency said it has recommended authorising the use of anti-viral drug to treat the new coronavirus. Photograph: Ulruch Perrey/AFP via Getty

 

Some governments in Europe and Asia said on Wednesday they had sufficient supplies of the Covid-19 anti-viral drug remdesivir for now, despite fears of shortages since its US maker pledged most output to its home market for the next three months.

The move by pharmaceutical company Gilead stirred the global debate about equitable access to drugs and brought concerns about accessibility, especially in regions where coronavirus rates are still high or there have been new outbreaks.

Remdesivir is in high demand after the intravenously-administered medicine helped shorten hospital recovery times in a clinical trial.

Britain and Germany said they had sufficient reserves for now, though they were weighing options for when those might be exhausted. South Korea has started distributing stocks, but plans talks to purchase more supplies in August.

The US Department of Health and Human Services this week said it had secured all of Gilead’s projected production for July and 90 per cent of its production in August and September, in addition to an allocation for clinical trials.

The European Union said on Wednesday it was in negotiations to obtain doses for its 27 member nations.

“The buying-up of remdesivir is disappointing news, not necessarily because of the shortages it implies for other countries, but because 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,” said Ohid Yaqub, senior lecturer at the Science Policy Research Unit of Britain’s University of Sussex.

Generic drugmakers

Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer and lead for Britain’s Department for Health and Social Care, told a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday that new drugs such as remdesivir were likely to be in “relatively short supply in the first instance”, in comparison to existing generic ones like dexamethasone.

The German health ministry said the conditional market approval Gilead was expected to receive from the European Commission this week carried an implied obligation to deliver sufficient quantities in the future. “We trust Gilead will meet this obligation,” it said.

Gilead has said it linked up with generic drugmakers based in India and Pakistan to supply remdesivir in 127 developing countries, but it has not discussed in detail its supply strategy for developed nations outside the United States.

“The issue is the high demand for a drug that is still an investigational medicine and probably had not been scaled up to a manufacturing level when the outbreak occurred,” said Gino Martini, the UK Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s chief scientist.

“The US action means clinical supply chains will be under strain. It will be down to manufacturers Gilead to boost production in order to satisfy demand for the use of remdesivir.” – Reuters

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