The US has bought up virtually all the stocks for the next three months of one of the two drugs proven to work against COVID-19, leaving none for the UK, Europe or most of the rest of the world, reports The Guardian. Experts and campaigners are alarmed both by the US unilateral action on remdesivir and the wider implications, for instance in the event of a vaccine becoming available. The Trump administration has already shown that it is prepared to outbid and outmanoeuvre all other countries to secure the medical supplies it needs for the US.
“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 Sciences 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 report says 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.”
The report says 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.
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 Defence Production Act to block some medical goods made in the US from being sent abroad.
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 report says 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.
Full report in The Guardian