US buys full 3-month global stock of Covid-19 drug remdesivir, leaves almost nothing for rest of the world
However, a potential Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTechs has also shown promise in its early human trials
The Trump administration has bagged almost all of Gilead's remdesivir supply for the next three months. The move leaves little for other countries, who are also in desperate need of the antiviral, the only drug with the US Food and Drug Administration's approval for emergency use.
"President Trump has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorized therapeutic for Covid-19,” Alex Azar, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said in a statement. “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," he added.
The US has acquired more than 500,000 treatment courses of the drug for American hospitals through September, according to the HHS. The numbers equal 100% of Gilead’s projected production for July, 90% of production in August, and 90% of production in September. The remaining will go into clinical trials. “They’ve got access to most of the drug supply [of remdesivir], so there’s nothing for Europe,” Dr. Andrew Hill, a senior visiting research fellow at Liverpool University, told The Guardian.
Responding to these reports, Dr. Mike Ryan, the World Health Organization's (WHO) executive director of Health Emergencies Program, told reporters: "We're aware of the reports in the media around this purchase or procurement of remdesivir stocks, and we're obviously working through our colleagues and our partners and the access to Covid Tools Accelerator to clarify and verify this report."
Only recently, Gilead announced its pricing for the drug. Americans with private insurance will have to shell out $3,120 for a treatment course: six vials of remdesivir administered over five days. The drugmaker will charge $2,340 per course for people coming under government programs and developed countries.
Remdesivir is not the only drug with promise. Scientists from the UK claimed that dexamethasone, a cheap and widely available medication, might rescue the sickest Covid-19 patients. According to the data released by the team, it cut deaths by a third for patients hooked to ventilators and by a fifth in those needing oxygen support.
A potential Covid-19 vaccine shows promise in human trials
Meanwhile, Pfizer along with biotech firm BioNTech released data on their vaccine named BNT162b1. Pfizer is evaluating three other candidates. Overall, 17 potential vaccines are being tested on humans.
The study, which has not been checked for errors yet, was conducted on 45 healthy volunteers. Of them, 12 received a 10-microgram dose, 12 a 30-microgram dose, 12 a 100-microgram dose and nine a placebo.
On day 28, all participants who received 10 or 30 micrograms developed antibodies against Covid-19. They also produced neutralizing antibodies, which are known to inactivate viruses. Their levels were 1.8- and 2.8-times higher than the recovered patients. The potential vaccine induced side-effects, including fever and sleep disturbances, especially in higher doses. However, none of those reactions were serious.
The preliminary data are encouraging as the vaccine is capable of producing neutralizing antibody responses in humans. It does so at or above the levels observed in convalescent sera and at relatively low dose levels. "We look forward to providing further data updates on BNT162b1,” Ugur Sahin, M.D., CEO and Co-founder of BioNTech, said in a statement.
If the vaccine clears further human tests, they hope to manufacture up to 100 million doses by the end of 2020 and more than 1.2 billion doses by the end of 2021. Incidentally, Pfizer is one of the five companies featured in the Trump administration's list of companies whose vaccines are most likely to work against Covid-19. They will receive additional government funding, help in running clinical trials, and financial and logistical support for a manufacturing base, according to reports.