Forget the loo paper – the US is hoarding the drug remdesivir

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  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.

remdesivir_vaccine_covid-19 treatment

Credit: Manjurul/Getty Images

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.

Also: The race is on around the world for a COVID-19 vaccine

This concern prompted Health Minister Greg Hunt to reassure Australians that the drug was available for Aussie doctors to use from the National Medical Stockpile.

“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.”

Also: How is COVID-19 treated, and does the coronavirus cause lasting damage?

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.

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About the Author

Lyndal Byford
Lyndal is the Director of News and Partnerships at the Australian Science Media Centre. She spends her days turning complex science papers into tasty morsels to help news journalists cover science. Lyndal has an Honours Degree in Biotechnology from Flinders University and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication from the Australian National University. She has spent the last 20 years communicating science in a range of settings including science museums, within the pharmaceutical industry and in media relations both here and in the UK. Lyndal regularly speaks about science on ABC Radio National and 2CC in Canberra. Lyndal was also a member of Inspiring Australia’s Science and the Media Expert working group for the Federal Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

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The Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC) is an independent, not-for-profit service for the news media, giving journalists direct access to evidence-based science and expertise. We aim to better inform public debate on the major issues of the day by improving links between the media and the scientific community. The Centre works with journalists to help them cover science as well as identify the science angles in everyday news stories and works with the scientific community to help them interact more effectively with the media and ensure that their voices are heard on issues of national importance.

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