Countries including Britain, Germany and Switzerland sought to allay concerns that they won’t have sufficient stocks ofGilead Sciences Inc.’s remdesivir, one of two drugs shown to treat Covid-19, after the U.S forged a deal to snap up almost all the supplies for three months.
The U.K. worked with Gilead in May to secure remdesivir in advance and has enough of the medicine to treat every National Health Service patient who needs it, officials said in an email response to questions Wednesday. Switzerland has supplies of the drug set aside for seriously ill patients, according to a government spokesman.
European countries are responding to concerns about aU.S. agreement announced earlier this week to purchase supplies of remdesivir, one of only two medicines with a proven effect against the coronavirus. The announcement fueled worries that wealthy countries such as the U.S. will leave other regions behind, gaining early access to drugs and vaccines to help fight the contagion and end the crisis.
“This has definitely sent shivers through the EU, and it will be discussed how to avoid a situation like this going forward,” said Thomas Senderovitz, director-general of theDanish Medicines Agency.
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An earlier move by the Trump administration to buy hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that the U.S. president touted as a coronavirus cure, left patients who rely on it for chronic diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis struggling to obtain it. Concerns about the U.S. elbowing its way to the front of the vaccine line arose in May when Sanofi Chief Executive Officer Paul Hudson said that its shots might be available there first because one of the country’s agencies helped fund development. Sanofi said later that its vaccine would be available to everyone.
Groups including Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations are working to ensure that vaccines are available worldwide.
The U.S. secured “an amazing deal” for Gilead’sentire projected production of the medicine for July, as well as 90% of the output for August and September, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Monday.
Gilead saidearlier this week that it plans to charge $390 a vial, or $2,340 for a five-day regimen, for direct government purchases by the U.S. or other developed countries. A one-price model would avoid the need for negotiations that could slow down access, the company said.
It’s still unclear how much the U.S. move will hamper other nations in their bid to gain the medicine. The Netherlands has adequate supplies of remdesivir that were donated by Gilead, according to the healthy ministry. A spokesman for Germany’s health minister told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland that the country has adequate supplies.
Gilead has donated its supplies through June, and said it hasagreements with manufacturers of generics, which will allow access for developing nations and boost the amounts available worldwide.
“We are seeing the reason why so many have said that Covid-19-related health goods should be considered public and as such, be protected from hoarding, profiteering and other practices that hinder access,” said Jaume Vidal, senior policy adviser at Health Action International, a nonprofit in the Netherlands. “Covid-19 cannot be successfully vanquished without a moral compass that puts the needs of the most above the profit of the few.”
Gilead’s remdesivir is one of the first widely used drugs for Covid-19 after a large clinical trial found the medicine sped recovery by about four days in hospitalized patients. Later,University of Oxford researchers said that a large study showed that dexamethasone, a cheap generic anti-inflammatory, improves survival in severely ill patients.
Hundreds more treatments and vaccines are in development around the globe as researchers race to find ways to halt a global pandemic that’s infected more than 10 million people, killing more than 500,000.
Gilead’s supply deal puts other high-income countries like the U.K. in an “impossible situation” where they’ll be unable to get it from the U.S. or import it from other countries like India, said Andrew Hill, a senior research fellow at theUniversity of Liverpool. Gilead has an obligation to make the drug available to European countries where people took on the risk of participating in human trials without knowing whether the drug would work, he said.
“Countries in Europe have made a contribution to this research, and they’re getting nothing in return,” he said. “You can’t use a continent as an experimental base and then not provide treatment afterward.”
Generic production will take time and won’t be able to meet global demand, according to Jessica Burry, a pharmacist at the Access Campaign ofMedecins Sans Frontieres, a global health relief group. International rules also need to be established for the equitable allocation of medicines, vaccines, tests and protective equipment, she said.
“Otherwise we will continue to see similar behavior,” she said.
— With assistance by Corinne Gretler, Morten Buttler, Marthe Fourcade, and Ellen Proper