WASHINGTON: The United States has bought nearly the entire world’s supply of remdesivir, one of just two drugs proven to treat Covid-19.
The anti-viral drug patented by the US-based Gilead biotech firm is the only one approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to treat patients with the novel coronavirus.
The announcement from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) implies European health authorities may not be able to acquire any supplies until the autumn.
US authorities secured more than 500,000 treatment courses of the drug through September, which “represents 100 percent of Gilead’s projected production for July (94,200 treatment courses), 90 percent of production in August (174,900 treatment courses), and 90 percent of production in September (232,800 treatment courses),” the HHS said in a statement.
Remdesivir has been found to reduce recovery time for hospitalised Covid-19 patients — those with the most severe infections — from 15 to 11 days. The effect was not observed in patients with mild or moderate disease.
“To the extent possible, we want to ensure that any American patient who needs remdesivir can get it,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said.
“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,” he added.
The US is the most heavily impacted country in the world by the pandemic. As of Tuesday, it had recorded more than 127,000 COVID-related deaths and over 2.6 million confirmed cases.
A sharp surge in infections over the past week has prompted governors in Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas to reimpose lockdown restrictions in their states.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the leading infectious disease expert in the US, also warned on Tuesday that the country’s tally of daily new cases could grow to 100,000 if Americans don’t start following public health recommendations.
The other drug to have been found to have an effect on COVID-19 patients is dexamethasone, a low-cost, widely-available steroid. Authorised for use in the UK, it reduces the number of deaths in the most severely-impacted patients by up to a third, according to British researchers.
According to the HHS, a treatment course with Remdesivir requires an average of 6.25 vials of the drug and costs approximately US $3,200. The drug has already been approved for use in the US, Japan and the EU.
Washington’s approach to remdesivir echoes its strategy towards a potential vaccine.
The German government strongly condemned in March an alleged US attempt to acquire the exclusive rights to a vaccine being developed by CureVac, a pharmaceutical company based in the southwestern Germany city of Tübingen.
In May, the French government reminded home-grown pharmaceutical giant Sanofi that equal access for everyone to the vaccine being developed “is not negotiable” after the company’s CEO told US media that Washington would be prioritised.