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MOVING FAST

The US government will dole out remdesivir to cities based on “urgent” need

Gilead lab technician works with Remdesivir vials
Gilead Sciences Inc/Handout via Reuters
Gilead is ramping up production of remdesivir.
  • Olivia Goldhill
By Olivia Goldhill

Science reporter

The pharmaceutical supply chain is moving rapidly to treat coronavirus patients. On May 1, the US Food and Drug Administration granted the antiviral drug remdesivir emergency use authorization, meaning it can be used as treatment. The head of the Gilead Sciences, which makes remdesivir, today said the company had donated its full supply to the US government, and that federal authorities will begin shipping the drug across the country in the next few days.

“We’re now firmly focused on getting this medicine to the most urgent patients around the country here in the United States,” CEO Daniel O’Day told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”  O’Day said the federal government will determine which cities have the most number of patients who urgently need remdesivir. “They will begin shipping tens of thousands of treatment courses out early this week,” he added. Until now, the only way to get remdesivir was to be in a clinical trial on the antiviral drug. 

On donating Gilead’s entire supply to the government, he said, “We did that because we acknowledge and recognize the human suffering, the human need here and want to make sure that nothing gets in the way of this getting to patients.”

Earlier this week, Gilead said it had been ramping up supply, and expected to have 140,000 treatment courses of remdesivir by the end of May, going up to 1 million by the end of December. 

Remdesivir has not been found to reduce the likelihood of death for Covid-19 patients. But according to Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a 1,063-person study found that patients given remdesivir recovered in 11 days on average, compared to 15 days for those given a placebo. Reducing the time patients spend in emergency care can significantly alleviate pressure on the healthcare system. 

The company’s decision to donate remdesivir reflects intense public pressure for companies not to profit off the coronavirus crisis. The donation is also in response to the drug being authorized only under emergency use, which allows the FDA to authorize a treatment under less rigorous conditions than usual in an emergency. O’Day has not commented on what Gilead might charge for remdesivir longterm, should the drug be formally approved. 

Aaron Kesselheim, a Harvard Medical School professor who studies drug pricing, told the New York Times that as the government funded the research showing remdesivir’s value, it “doesn’t seem fair” for Gilead to take all the rewards.

“Their pricing should reflect that the government not only invested substantial funds, but at risky stages,” he added. 

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