'An outrage': Trump administration's 'unusual' coronavirus move

One of the possible treatments for coronavirus will be even harder to obtain outside of the US for the time being after America swooped in to purchase almost all of it.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on Monday (local time) the Trump administration had purchased the drug, remdesivir, for the country from Gilead Sciences.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar said US president Donald Trump had “struck an amazing deal”.

“To the extent possible, we want to ensure that any American patient who needs remdesivir can get it,” he said.

“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.”

Remdesivir, pictured at the University Hospital Eppendorf (UKE) in Hamburg, northern Germany, could hold the key to curing coronavirus. Source: Getty Images

Remdesivir is being touted as a possible treatment for COVID-19. 

The drug, given through an IV, interferes with the coronavirus’s ability to copy its genetic material. In a US government-led study, remdesivir shortened recovery time by 31 per cent — 11 days on average versus 15 days for those given just usual care. 

It had not improved survival, according to preliminary results after two weeks of follow-up. Results after four weeks are expected soon.

However, while it’s promising it’s unlikely large supplies of the drug will arrive on Australian soil anytime soon given the US purchased 100 per cent of the drug available in July from Gilead, 90 per cent of production in August, and 90 per cent of production in September.

US. President Donald Trump's administration has purchased most of the stock. Source: Getty Images, file

In total, the US bought more than 500,000 treatment courses of the drug. Gilead’s also donating another 129,000 courses to the US.

The drug didn’t come cheap either with a price tag of more than AU$560 a vial. A treatment course is more than six vials too, meaning some Americans will have to pay more than $3300.

While the price tag is eyebrow raising, people are more than frustrated by America choosing to buy all of it.

Dr Phillip Reece, a consultant to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry, told news.com.au the decision to buy all of it was “unusual”.

“The US has clearly decided that their citizens should get exclusive access to remdesivir until sufficient amounts of the drug can be manufactured for international markets,” Dr Reece said.

Dr Reece added “it’s a pity” there had not been more international cooperation on getting a vaccine for the pandemic.

He pointed out in the 1940s governments worked together to scale up the production of penicillin. 

Peter Maybarduk, a lawyer at the consumer group Public Citizen, called the price “an outrage”.

“Remdesivir should be in the public domain” because the drug received at least $100 million in public funding toward its development, he said.

“The price puts to rest any notion that drug companies will ‘do the right thing’ because it is a pandemic,” Dr Peter Bach, a health policy expert at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, said in an email. 

“The price might have been fine if the company had demonstrated that the treatment saved lives. It didn’t.”

Germany has also managed to get its hands on the drug too.

"The federal government has early on secured remdesivir for the treatment of coronavirus patients. Currently, there are still sufficient reserves," the ministry told Reuters in a written statement.

With a conditional market approval, which is expected to be issued by the EU Commission this week, comes an obligation to deliver sufficient quantities in the future, it added.

"We trust Gilead will meet this obligation," the ministry said.

South Korea has also disclosed its been speaking with Gilead too and has received a number of donations however it’s not been stated how many.

It plans on purchasing the drug in August.

with Reuters and The Associated Press

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