The US has purchased more than 90% of the world’s supply of remdesivir, the only proven treatment for COVID-19, in a move that leaves little for the rest of the world for at least the next three months.
Gilead Sciences, the US-based company that makes the drug, agreed to sell more than 500,000 treatment courses to the US until September, which is almost the entire amount it has the ability to produce.
Generic alternatives for the drug exist, but patent law means that only low- and middle-income countries can produce their own. Gilead Sciences has licensed companies to do this in 127 countries.
Dr Andrew Hill, a senior visiting research fellow at Liverpool University, said they are prevented from selling it to richer nations, like those of Europe, Sky News reported.
Gilead will sell all of its supply for July to the US, as well as 90% of the supply produced in August and September, the HHS announced.
President Donald Trump and HHS Director Alex Azar.
Associated Press/Evan Vucci
Before a vaccine is widely available, the remdesivir deal will leave many countries scrambling for an alternative. Vaccine trials for the coronavirus are still ongoing, and the earliest point at which a version may be available for emergency use is fall or winter, as Business Insider’s Andrew Dunn reported.
Countries may consider compulsory licensing and buyers’ clubs, Hill told Sky News. A compulsory license can be issued by a government allowing it to order a company to manufacture a drug in pandemic circumstances, bypassing the patent holder, Dr Hill reportedly said.
Nonetheless, the remdesivir deal prompted calls for a more equitable system of global distribution.
“It does raise two very important questions,” Peter Horby, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford in the UK, told the BBC. “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.”
He also said the deal was partly to be expected, given that Gilead Sciences is a US company, the BBC reported.
The US is seeing a massive surge in its coronavirus cases since, with several states reporting unprecedented numbers of infections since lockdowns were eased. On Tuesday, 48,000 new cases were reported, setting a daily record for the fourth time in a week.
Women in Florida, which has seen one of the worst resurgences of the novel coronavirus.
Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images