When it comes to pandemic drug supply, it’s every country for itself. That’s the message the rest of the world got from the Trump administration’s deal to lock up almost all doses of Gilead Sciences’ COVID-19 treatment remdesivir in the coming months for the U.S.
Now, Europe has decided it needs to look out for itself, too.
EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides spoke with Gilead execs Monday to iron out a deal to secure remdesivir supply for 16 EU countries, Bloomberg reported, citing a person familiar with the matter.
The “constructive” talks covered “the production capacity and access to remdesivir treatments for EU member states,” according to a European Commission email cited by the business news wire.
“Our main objective is to ensure that the needs of patients with COVID-19 can be met as quickly as possible in all EU member states,” Kyriakides said, as quoted by Bloomberg. “We stand ready to support a coordinated EU procurement procedure to secure swift, broad and fair access.”
The discussion follows what HHS Secretary Alex Azar called an “amazing deal” by President Trump to snap up more than 500,000 treatment courses of remdesivir. It represents 100% of Gilead’s expected production for July and 90% in August and September, according to an HHS statement on June 29.
The deal drew concerns that other countries wouldn’t be able to get enough injections for their own populations—and that it could set a bad example for vicious competition over potential COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.
Gilead has already enlisted “multiple manufacturing partners in the U.S., Europe and Asia,” the company said, and with that help is “capable of producing large volumes of remdesivir at the fastest pace feasible.”
Moving on an accelerated schedule, the European Commission on Friday conditionally approved remdesivir, now marketed under the brand Veklury, as a treatment for the novel coronavirus.
Remdesivir was the first drug to show clear benefits in COVID-19 after a large-scale clinical trial run by the National Institutes of Health found it can cut recovery time for hospitalized patients by about 30%, or four days. A team of University of Oxford and U.K. government scientists recently unveiled data showing the low-cost steroid dexamethasone can significantly reduce the death rate among severely ill patients.
After that dexamethasone announcement and an updated cost-effectiveness analysis by a powerful U.S. drug price watchdog, Gilead unveiled a remdesivir price of $390 per vial—or $2,340 per patient for a typical five-day treatment course—for government purchases from developed countries. The drug’s list price for U.S. private insurers is higher at $520 per vial.
Gilead had previously donated 1.5 million doses of remdesivir to cover about 140,000 treatment courses, a supply that’s now running out. The company recently doubled its supply goal to cover more than 2 million patients by year-end.
In addition to an emergency use authorization in the U.S. and the EU's conditional nod, remdesivir has also been greenlighted in Japan, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and India. In developing countries, Gilead has struck licensing deals with generics makers to ensure supply at low costs.