Re: Trump administration US buys up world stock of key Covid-19 drug remdesivir
Buying up the world’s supply of remdesivir is not just a reaction to the increasing spread and death toll. The US has taken an “America first” attitude throughout the global pandemic.
“They’ve got access to most of the drug supply [of remdesivir], so there’s nothing for Europe,” said Dr Andrew Hill, senior visiting research fellow at Liverpool University.
Remdesivir, the first drug approved by licensing authorities in the US to treat Covid-19, is made by Gilead and has been shown to help people recover faster from the disease. The first 140,000 doses, supplied to drug trials around the world, have been used up. The Trump administration has now bought more than 500,000 doses, which is all of Gilead’s production for July and 90% of August and September.
“President Trump has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorised therapeutic for Covid-19,” said the US health and 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.”
In May, French manufacturer Sanofi said the US would get first access to its Covid vaccine if it works. Its CEO, Paul Hudson, was quoted as saying: “The US government has the right to the largest pre-order because it’s invested in taking the risk,” and, he added, the US expected that “if we’ve helped you manufacture the doses at risk, we expect to get the doses first”. Later it backtracked under pressure from the French government.
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau warned there could be unintended negative consequences if the US continued to outbid its allies. “We know it is in both of our interests to work collaboratively and cooperatively to keep our citizens safe,” he said. The Trump administration has also invoked the Defense Production Act to block some medical goods made in the US from being sent abroad.
Nothing looks likely to prevent the US cornering the market in remdesivir, however. “This is the first major approved drug, and where is the mechanism for access?” said Dr Hill. “Once again we’re at the back of the queue.”
The drug has been watched eagerly for the last five months, said Hill, yet there was no mechanism to ensure a supply outside the US. “Imagine this was a vaccine,” he said. “That would be a firestorm. But perhaps this is a taste of things to come.”
Hill said there was a way for the UK to secure supplies of this and other drugs during the pandemic, through what is known as a compulsory licence, which overrides the intellectual property rights of the company. That would allow the UK government to buy from generic companies in Bangladesh or India, where Gilead’s patent is not recognised.
The UK has always upheld patents, backing the argument of pharma companies that they need their 20-year monopoly to recoup the money they put into research and development. But other countries have shown an interest in compulsory licensing. “It is a question of what countries are prepared to do if this becomes a problem,” said Hill.