US Buys Up World Stock Of Key Coronavirus Drug Leaving Rest Of Us Short
The United States has bought up virtually all stocks of a drug proven to work against COVID-19, at least for the next three months.
In a deal struck with US pharmaceutical firm Gilead Sciences, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) secured more than 500,000 courses of Remdesivir – an anti-viral drug shown to reduce the recovery time of patients.
This is all of Gilead’s projected production of the drug for July (94,200 courses) and 90% of its production in August (174,900 courses) and September (232,800 courses).
The US health and human services secretary, Alex Azar, described it as an ‘amazing’ deal that will ‘ensure Americans have access to the first authorised therapeutic for COVID-19’.
He continued, as per The Guardian:
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.
Basically, any American patient in need will have access to the drug. Which is great news, until you realise that means barely anything has been left for the UK, Europe and the rest of the world.
So now, just weeks after Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed the drug the ‘biggest step forward’ in treating the virus, there are legitimate concerns patients in the UK and elsewhere won’t get widespread access to the treatment.
Oxford University Professor Peter Horby, chair of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said manufacturer Gilead would be under ‘certain political pressures locally’ as a US company.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, as per HuffPost:
It does raise two very important questions: what is a fair price for a drug, and what is fair access to a drug, and those are common issues but are particularly important in a global crisis like this.
The professor went on to note that Remdesivir’s trial didn’t take place just in the US; patients from all around the world – including the UK and Mexico – participated.
‘I wonder how they would feel knowing now that the drug is going to have restricted availability in their own country, and would they have volunteered for that trial if they had known that?’, he asked.
This decision by the Trump administration is a cause for concern among experts and campaigners; not just because it raises questions about fair access, but because of the wider implications it might have for the future.
In particular, what would happen in the event of a vaccine becoming available? Would the Trump administration continue this ‘America first’ attitude we’ve witnessed throughout the global pandemic? Or would it play fair?
‘Imagine this was a vaccine,’ Dr Andrew Hill, senior visiting research fellow at Liverpool University, told The Guardian. ‘That would be a firestorm. But perhaps this is a taste of things to come.’
Professor Horby said commercial companies such as Gilead are ‘built to behave like this’, and we need a ‘much stronger framework’ if such drugs are going to be used for national emergencies like this one.
Gilead has said it will charge $2,340 (£1,900) for a typical treatment course for people in the US and other developed countries, although critics in the US have attacked the price because taxpayers have funded much of the drug’s development.
The drug will sell for less in poorer countries, where generic drug-makers are being allowed to produce it.
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