US hoarding global stock of remdesivir, key drug in fight against COVID-19

Three months stock of drug sold to US by Gilead Sciences

HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/BANGLADESH-REMDESIVIR Drops of hope: A vial of remdesivir at a news conference about the start of a study into the drug in hamburg, germany | Reuters

The United States—the nation worst-hit by the coronavirus pandemic with over 2.7 million cases and over 130,000 deaths—has bought up global stocks of Gilead Science’s drug remdesivir, with little left for the rest of the world for the next three months.

The US has bought over 500,000 doses of the drug from Gilead, an amount that makes up all of the US-based company’s manufacturing capacity for July and most of its capacity for August and September.

Remdesivir was approved by the FDA in May as an emergency drug for the treatment of COVID-19, receiving approval in India and other countries afterwards. Early studies suggest that the drug improves recovery time for COVID-19 patients, with top expert Dr Anthony Fauci saying it has a “clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery”.

“President Trump has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorized therapeutic for COVID-19,” said United States Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. “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 move to buy up global stock has alarmed experts, who fear that the rest of the world will now struggle to access it.

Only Gilead Sciences may produce and distribute the drug as it holds the patent, having initially developed the drug as a cure for Ebola. According to the US government, it costs around $3,200 per six-dose treatment.

India approved emergency use of the drug in June, with the first batch of the drug, around 20,000 vials, having been sent to the four worst-hit states in India by the virus: Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat—as well as to Telangana. Two Indian companies, CIPLA and Hetero Pharma, began production of generic Remdesivir in late June.