Remdesivir raises hopes in fight against corona; but concerns on access too

Remdesivir, the experimental drug by Gilead Science, is emerging as a frontrunner to treat corona virus with more studies showing positive results. More countries including India have expressed willingness to use it on experimental basis. However, concerns are also rising on its pricing and patent status.

The drug which was originally used to fight Ebola, can be highly effective in treating corona virus infection, according to a study by the scientists at the Scientists at the University of Alberta.

Earlier Gilead Sciences has shown that more than two-thirds of the patients improved after receiving remdesivir. Gilead has made remdesivir available to more than 1,700 people on a compassionate use basis while also providing it to subjects in its own clinical trials and those run by other sponsors.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), for example, recently began a clinical trial of remdesivir to treat COVID-19 while the same is under phase III trials in China which already secured patents for the copycat drug.

In February, study had already shown how this drug worked against the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus, a related coronavirus. Now it was found that the drug is effective against a key enzyme of coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

However, many groups are raising concern about its pricing and patent status. The Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA) has urged the government to revoke a patent granted to Gilead on a Remdesivir compound.

“It is imperative at a time like this that no monopoly rights be granted, so that more manufacturers can produce the drug to be made available to all the people who need it, at affordable costs,” CPAA founder YK Sapru said in a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office, the Commerce Minister and the Union Health Secretary, among others.“Patients who are living with cancer, and are undergoing chemotherapy and/or radical radiotherapy for lung cancer, and patients with blood and bone marrow cancer, are particularly vulnerable to serious illnesses if they get Covid-19,” the letter said.

Reports said Gilead must be spending over $150 million to run the trials and develop the drug, which indicates a high pricing for it in the markets. Gilead said if the drug succeeds the phase-3 trials, it will offer 1 million doses of the drug for compassionate use.

However, civil society groups have warned against the pricing. The price of remdesivir is unknown, according to Doctors Without Borders. Some reports suggested Gilead may charge $260 per treatment course in the country. Prices may be as high as $1,000 per treatment course in the US.

That will really raise a question of its accessibility.


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