Last updated July 9, 2020 at 10:18 am
If you thought hoarding bog roll was a bad look for humanity, the US may have gone a step further, announcing that they bought almost all the global stock of remdesivir for the next three months.
Why This Matters: Australia might be okay, but this move puts pressure on global stocks.
The US administration has bought almost all stock of the drug remdesivir for the next three months.
The drug, produced by American pharmaceutical company Gilead, is one of only two drugs so far shown to help in the treatment of COVID-19. The drug has been shown to reduce the time to recovery, but not significantly reduce the risk of death, in people hospitalised with COVID-19.
The US Department of Health and Human Services announced it had secured more than 500,000 treatment courses of the drug, a tally which represents 100 per cent of manufacturer Gilead’s projected production for July, 90 per cent of production in August, and 90 percent of production in September.
Concerns raised over accessibility of treatment
Experts say the move raises concerns not only about access in other countries, but also how to prevent profiteering from the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuring that patients who need treatment are able to access it.
“If remdesivir does prove effective in treating COVID-19, the drug would be needed not only in the US, but globally, including in Australia,” says Associate Professor Barbara Mintzes from the University of Sydney.
“We foresaw this. We acted early. We worked with the supplier Gilead. So I recognise that around the world there are some shortages, Australia is in a fortunate position,” he says.
Professor Andrew McLachlan from the University of Sydney says the COVID-19 pandemic focused a spotlight on unresolved tensions around equity of access to healthcare.
“The WHO holds that equitable access to medicines is a human right, but the challenges of national sovereignty, commercial interests and political posturing place pressure on the rights of communities around the world.”
Pharmaceutical companies have a moral and financial interest to increase production
McLachlan says Australia has a National Medicines Policy which supports a “responsible and viable” medicines industry and recognises their essential role to bring new medicines to market.
“Unfortunately this ‘responsibility’ is not shared round the world, especially in many developed countries.”
Dr Roger Lord from the Australian Catholic University says pharmaceutical companies have both a moral and financial interest to increase production to meet demand, suggesting they may consider licensing its manufacture to other companies around the world.
“Once Gilead have secured the required legal and regulatory paperwork to allow for manufacture at other locations the supply of remdesivir will become more widespread,” he says.
Remdesivir is also not the only drug showing promise for treating COVID-19. According to Dr David Patterson from the University of Queensland, the only drug proven in clinical trials to lower mortality from COVID-19 is the generic steroid, dexamethasone.
“In Australia, dexamethasone is readily available and is inexpensive, making it the cornerstone of therapy for hospitalised patients with deterioration in their respiratory status,” he said.
You can read the full expert reaction here.