Gilead Sciences sends additional doses of COVID-19 therapy remdesivir to EU amid shortages

As one of few COVID-19 therapeutics with global regulators on board, Gilead Sciences' remdesivir saw immediate U.S. demand that has somewhat tapered off in recent months. But in the EU, some nations have seen spot shortages, and Gilead is stepping in with more supply.

Gilead has shipped enough doses of its antiviral Veklury (remdesivir) to the EU to treat 3,400 patients—or 20,300 doses—after countries reported rationing and shortages of the COVID-19 therapy, a Gilead spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday. That $8.2 million order would be enough to meet roughly one to two weeks of treatment supply, Reuters reported

Gilead followed that up on Thursday with a joint procurement agreement that will help the drugmaker meet real-time demand and stockpiling requests from EU nations. The agreement will last for six months with the option to expand, and Gilead expects the first shipments to go out next week. 

Earlier this week, European health ministers told Reuters certain countries in the EU bloc faced shortages of the drug despite a dip in demand stateside. In September, the California drugmaker signed a deal with the EU's 27 member states and Britain to supply enough treatment courses for 30,000 patients—a pittance compared with the 500,000 treatment courses, or 1.5 million doses, provided for U.S. supply. 

In the Netherlands, supplies of remdevisir had "run out," but the nation is expecting a new order, Dutch Health Ministry spokesman Martijn Janssen told Reuters. Poland, Spain and the U.K. faced similar challenges, with the U.K. reportedly reserving supplies for the most severe COVID-19 cases. 

RELATED: Gilead Sciences takes back remdesivir distribution as demand drops

Last week, Gilead announced it would begin directly selling to American hospitals, ending a five-month phase when the U.S. Department of Health and Human services was responsible for allocating it.

The drugmaker said it was meeting real-time demand for remdesivir in the U.S. and would match that in the EU within the month. Gilead has been collecting revenue on remdesivir since July at the wholesale acquisition cost of $3,120 for a typical five-day treatment course.

Remdesivir has shown it can cut recovery time for hospitalized patients by about 30%, or four days, but its ability to slash death rates wasn’t statistically significant in a clinical trial run by the National Institutes of Health. Besides, the drug’s benefit to moderately ill patients is debatable; a study showed the drug could help moderate COVID-19 patients achieve clinical status improvement when given over five days, but, as a 10-day treatment, it failed to top standard therapy.

RELATED: Trump takes Regeneron's antibodies, Gilead's remdesivir, dexamethasone in first days of COVID-19 hospital stay

Perhaps a sign of its high price, remdesivir has seen a drop in demand in recent months as cheaper alternatives like steroid dexamethasone have risen in popularity.

Some states and territories have not been accepting their full allocations, and only 32% of the 500,000 treatment course donation was actually purchased by hospitals from July to September, the Department of Health and Human Services said last week.

However, Gilead's drug could get a boost in popularity after it was included in President Donald Trump's COVID-19 treatment course during his brief stay in the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center over the weekend. Another therapy used in his treatment, an investigational antibody cocktail from Regeneron, shot the New York drugmaker's shares up this week.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated.