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Opinions Fri, 24 Jul 2020

US to monopolise sale of coronavirus drug, Remdesivir?

Remdesivir is one of the highly promising COVID-19 drugs that have been in the race to emerge as the first medicine in the global fight against the pandemic. The other highly promising drugs include dexamethasone and chloroquine phosphate.

Dexamethasone is a well-known, cheap, simple and easily produced and available drug reported, earlier, to be the first to make a “major breakthrough”.

The drug has proved to be safe and efficacious in treating COVID-19 patients on ventilation and those on oxygen. It is being developed by research scientists at the Oxford University in the United Kingdom. The scientists have found that dexamethasone can reduce death of very sick COVID-19 patients on ventilators from 40 to 28.

For COVID-19 patients on oxygen, it can reduce death among 100 patients treated with the drug to 25.

Chloroquine phosphate has proved, in clinical trials, in China to be effective and safe in treating patients with serious pneumonia infections.

It is also a well-known anti-malaria drug, and it has been recommended by the Chinese government for treatment of pneumonia caused by COVID-19.

Like chloroquine phosphate, dexamethasone is well known. It has been in use since the 1960s for treating some ailments, such as breathing problems, arthritis, hormone and immune system disorders and some types of cancer. Unlike dexamethasone and chloroquine phosphate, remdesivir is not well known, not cheap, not simple to produce and not easily available.

In early July, 2020, research scientists at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre (VUMC); the University of North Carolina and Gilead Sciences, a US pharmaceutical company, reported that remdesivir has been found, in clinical trials, to potentially inhibit SARS-COV-2 that causes COVID-19 in human lung cells and cultures.

Initially, remdesivir had reportedly improved lung functioning in mouse infected with the virus.

According to reports, remdesivir had been given to patients with COVID-19 on compassionate-use basis since January, 2020 and clinical trials, since February, 2020.

Patients treated with the drug in April, 2020, according to the reports, recovered more quickly.

“All of the results with remdesivir have been encouraging even more so than we would have hoped, but it is still investigational; so, it was important to directly demonstrate its activity against SARS-COV-2 in the laboratory and in animal model of disease,” Professor Andrea Pruissers of the VUMC has said.

Trials that are currently being done would determine precisely how much it could benefit COVID-19 patients in different stages of the disease.

It is being sold by Gilead Sciences under the name Veklury. It is a broad-spectrum anti-viral drug applied as injection into the human vain. From early 2020 and thereafter, its use was authorised in the United States, India, Singapore, Japan, European countries and in the United Kingdom.

However, because it is in limited supply, it was decided that, for use on COVID-19 patients worldwide, the drug must be rationed. Gilead Sciences announced on June 29, 2020 that it had set the price of remdesivir at $390 per one vial for the government of developed countries, including the US. For US health insurance companies, it was to sell at $520.

Total cost of treatment per a patient was set at $2,340 which is the price for six vials of remdesivir for five-day application.

Gilead Sciences had announced on May 12, 2020, that it had granted non-exclusive voluntary licenses to five generic drug companies in Egypt, India and Pakistan to produce the drug for distribution to 127 developing countries.
Columnist: Larweh Therson-Cofie
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