Gilead Sciences via AP
The US has struck a deal with Gilead Sciences to purchase more than 90% of the global supply of the drug remdesivir.
Remdesivir has been shown to help moderately ill patients recover more quickly from COVID-19, and it is the only proven treatment for the disease.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar called it an "amazing deal," but it leaves many countries with few options.
The treatment, which was previously donated by Gilead, has now been priced at $2,340 a course for developed nations, including the US.
The US has purchased more than 90% of the world's supply of remdesivir, the only proven treatment for COVID-19, in a move that leaves little for the rest of the world for at least the next three months.
Gilead Sciences, the US-based company that makes the drug, agreed to sell more than 500,000 treatment courses to the US until September, which is almost the entire amount it has the ability to produce.
Remdesivir, which was originally developed to treat Ebola, has been shown to help moderately ill patients recover more quickly from COVID-19 and was granted temporary approval by the Food and Drug Administration for that purpose in early May.
"President Trump has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorized therapeutic for COVID-19," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said, according to a statement released by the department.
Generic alternatives for the drug exist, but patent law means that only low- and middle-income countries can produce their own. Gilead Sciences has licensed companies to do this in 127 countries.
Dr. Andrew Hill, a senior visiting research fellow at Liverpool University, said they are prevented from selling it to richer nations, like those of Europe, Sky News reported.
Gilead will sell all of its supply for July to the US, as well as 90% of the supply produced in August and September, the HHS announced.
Associated Press/Evan Vucci
Before a vaccine is widely available, the remdesivir deal will leave many countries scrambling for an alternative. Vaccine trials for the coronavirus are still ongoing, and the earliest point at which a version may be available for emergency use is fall or winter, as Business Insider's Andrew Dunn reported.
In the UK, dexamethasone, an inexpensive steroid, has also had encouraging results in treating the coronavirus.
Countries may consider compulsory licensing and buyers' clubs, Hill told Sky News. A compulsory license can be issued by a government allowing it to order a company to manufacture a drug in pandemic circumstances, bypassing the patent holder, Dr Hill reportedly said.
Nonetheless, the remdesivir deal prompted calls for a more equitable system of global distribution.
"It does raise two very important questions," Peter Horby, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford in the UK, told the BBC. "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."
He also said the deal was partly to be expected, given that Gilead Sciences is a US company, the BBC reported.
The US is seeing a massive surge in its coronavirus cases since, with several states reporting unprecedented numbers of infections since lockdowns were eased. On Tuesday, 48,000 new cases were reported, setting a daily record for the fourth time in a week.
Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Gilead has set the price of a course of a remdesivir treatment — about six vials — at $2,340 for developed countries, including the US, according to a statement from CEO Daniel O'Day. It had previously been donating its supply.
The RBC Capital Markets analyst Brian Abrahams estimated the company would generate about $1 billion in profit for 2020 with the new price of remdesivir, Business Insider's Dunn and Lydia Ramsey Pflanzer reported.
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