THE US has bought up virtually all worldwide stocks of a drug shown to work against Covid-19 – raising fears Brits won’t be able to get hold of it until autumn.
The decision by the Trump administration has sparked fury with leading scientists who have raised concerns over “fair access” to remdesivir.
The anti-viral drug was originally developed for use against Ebola but trials showed that it helped patients hospitalised with coronavirus recover almost a third faster.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed it the “biggest step forward” in treating Covid-19 when it was given approval for use on the NHS in May.
But now there are concerns patients in the UK won’t get widespread access to the treatment after the US bought more than 500,000 doses.
It makes up the entire global supply for July and 90 per cent of stocks for August and September.
Oxford University’s Professor Peter Horby, who led trials when the drug was first developed, said manufacturer Gilead would be under “certain political pressures locally” as a US company.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It does raise two very important questions: what is a fair price for a drug and what is fair access to a drug, and those are common issues but are particularly important in a global crisis like this.
“That’s part of the fair access question, the trial that gave the result that allowed remdesivir to sell their drug wasn’t just done in the US, there were patients participating through other European countries, in the UK as well, and internationally, Mexico and other places.
“And I wonder how they would feel knowing now that the drug is going to have restricted availability in their own country and would they have volunteered for that trial if they had known that?”
Prof Horby, who now chairs the new and emerging respiratory virus threats advisory group (Nervtag), said also raises questions if a vaccine is found.
He told the radio show: “Commercial companies are built to behave like this and we need a much stronger framework if we are going to develop these things and they’re going to be used for national emergencies.”
Last night, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) said it had secured more than 500,000 treatment courses of remdesivir for American hospitals.
This represents 100 per cent of the US pharmaceutical firm Gilead’s projected production for July (94,200 treatment courses), 90 per cent of production in August (174,900 treatment courses), and 90 per cent of production in September (232,800 treatment courses), alongside an allocation for clinical trials.
Remdesivir been approved for use in Covid-19 patients by the US and the UK, among other countries, after data suggested it can cut recovery time by about four days.
However, there is no clinical trial data as yet to suggest it improves survival from coronavirus.
It is one of two drugs which have been given the green light in treating coronavirus patients in the UK.
The other is dexamethasone – a £5 anti-inflammatory steroid proven to reduce the death rate among those requiring hospital ventilation for the bug.
HHS secretary Alex Azar said in a statement: “President Trump has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorised therapeutic for Covid-19.
“To the extent possible, we want to ensure that any American patient who needs remdesivir can get it.
“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.”
Gilead has said it will charge 2,340 US dollars (£1,900) for a typical treatment course for people in the US and other developed countries.
It will sell for less in poorer countries where generic drug-makers are being allowed to produce it.
Critics in the US attacked the price because taxpayers have funded much of the drug’s development.
As of Tuesday, the US reported more than 2.7million cases of coronavirus of the world’s 10.5million.
Nearly 130,000 Americans have died from the virus.
Remdesivir has been shown to shorten recovery time for severely ill coronavirus patients.
It’s given through an IV and interferes with the coronavirus strain’s ability to copy its genetic material.