With the U.S. buying up most of Gilead’s stock of COVID-19 drug remdesivir, what hope is there for other countries who wish to treat people with COVID-19? An expert surveys the pharma production situation.

The U.S. has leveraged its economic might to obtain almost all of the global stocks of the COVID-19 treatment drug remdesivir. This news comes following an announcement by the U.S. health department, where 500,000 doses have been purchased for exclusive use by U.S. hospitals.

Looking at the ramifications of the U.S. action is Dr Farasat Bokhari is an Associate Professor in University of East Anglia’s School of Economics and Centre for Competition Policy (U.K.). A health economist with a background in applied microeconomics, industrial organization, and a specialization in health policy, Dr Bokhari’s research interests include competition, antitrust, and technologies in hospital and pharmaceutical industries.
What is remdesivir?

Remdesivir (brand name Veklury)is a broad-spectrum antiviral medication developed by the firm Gilead Sciences. The medication is administered via injection via a vein. Remdesivir has the potential as a targeted treatment for COVID-19, and has been authorized for emergency use in the U.S. for patients exhibiting severe symptoms.

How can stocks of remdesivir be built up?

While the stocks of remdesivir have been directed to the U.S., there is hope for the build-up of the drug, according to Dr Bokhari: “Gilead provided free licences to several generic makers to produce and distribute remdesivir. These included Mylan and other generic makers in Pakistan and India. The licenses are royalty free for now…these companies will be able to step up and provide supplies through-out the world.”

He adds that the possibility for making the drug is strong, given the ability to copy the formula: “Even other firms who did not receive a license from Gilead may start making the drug.”
As an example: “Beximco is producing the drug without licence from Gilead under the provisions of the World Trade Organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights provision that allows authorities in least developed countries to issue `compulsory licence’ under certain situations.”

In terms of the application of the medication, Bokhari notes: “Remdesivir is not likely to be needed for all COVID-19 patients. But if you are worried that you or a loved one will need this drug, manufacturers in other countries are going to ramp up production.”

The key question is: just how quickly can manufacturers produce the necessary stock and distribute it?

BY Tim Sandle
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