The move by Trump’s administration to buy up all available remdesivir drug for the United States alone has been widely condemned. Remdesivir is a promising drug for the treatment of COVID-19, which has been on trial for months.
This week, Trump’s administration bought up almost the entire supply of the drug, which means, other countries will not have access to it until maybe the next three or four months.
“President Trump has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorized therapeutic for COVID-19. To the extent possible, we want to ensure that any American patient who needs remdesivir can get it,” said the US health and human services secretary, Alex Azar. “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.”
Remdesivir was developed by Gilead Sciences; a California-based pharmaceutical company, being the first to produce an internationally recognized drug, approved by health authorities and effective for the fight against coronavirus. Trump’s move has been seen as a disruption to the global synergy in the battle against the virus, and it is being enforced by his “America first” rhetoric.
“We know Trump was Mr. ‘America first,’ but this is still a deplorable act in the face of a global crisis,” said Michael Smith, University of Aberdeen.
Apart from the “America first” ideology, patent rights that has resulted in monopoly of goods and services, especially when it has such a global impact, has been brought into question. Gilead Sciences put the cost of remdesivir at $3,200 per treatment of six doses, and due to patent, it is the only company that can produce it in developed countries.
“This is what happens when the world relies on a broken system driven by greed and profit during a pandemic,” tweeted Global Justice Now, a UK-based advocacy group.
The director of Global Justice Now, Nick Dearden said the government should override the patent to save the situation.
“Governments have a right to override this ludicrous patent system under international law, and they should take the opportunity to do that now, saving the [National Health Service] and patients around the world from the profiteering of these dysfunctional corporations,” he said.
The situation has alarmed the rest of the world, experts and campaigners said the US’ unilateral action will have wider implications when a vaccine becomes available.
Gilead’s decision to charge $3,200 per privately insured patient has been also condemned by advocacy groups. Public Citizen said it is “offensive” given that more than $70 million taxpayers’ money was thrown into developing the drug.
The US Health and Human Services Department (HHS) said it has secured the entire projected production for the next three months, because its purchase “represents 100 percent of Gilead’s projected production for July (94,200 treatment courses), 90 percent of production in August (174,900 treatment courses), an 90 percent of production in September (232,800 treatment courses), in addition to an allocation for clinical trials.”
This means that, even after September, the rest of the world will not have access to the drug unless the UK and other nations use the only option available. The Guardian reported that the UK and other nations have the choice of purchasing remdesivir through “generic companies in Bangladesh or India, where Gilead’s patent is not recognized.”
Gilead has voluntary license agreements with drug manufacturers in Egypt, India and Pakistan to supply remdesivir to 127 lower-income countries. It is under this agreement that generic production of the drug is permitted but with specified conditions.
Although it is not sure if remdesivir will provide the remedy for COVID-19 as studies during its trial yielded not much significant result from other drugs, Gilead has been asked to relinquish its patent. Advocacy groups said it is not time to think of profit when humanity is at war with a pandemic.
But with the Trump administration’s position on the matter, it appears impossible that any other nation will have access to remdesivir through Gilead. The whole situation seems to have been politicized with Trump desperately looking for a magic wand to turn events around in favor of his reelection. His handling of COVID-19 pandemic has been described as “disastrous” and it has jeopardized his chances at the November election. Trump believes that getting effective drug for the virus will turn things around in his favor.
In mid-March, Trump had reached out to Germany with a billion dollars offer to purchase a coronavirus drug being developed by the firm CureVac only for the United States. Germany responded to the offer saying that “Germany is not for sale.”
The “America first” ideology and the recent political interest have compounded the situation. Other nations are still working on vaccines for the cure of coronavirus. With this move by Trump, the United States may be excluded from the coronavirus global synergy that is supported by the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), if a cure is found outside the US.
Another concern is that it has set a precedent that other nations may follow. Dr. Deborah Gleeson, a senior public health lecturer at La Trobe University in Australia, called the development “outrageous” and “a concerning precedent.”
“It’s quite outrageous that the US government has bought up almost the entire next three months’ supply of remdesivir. It’s a very concerning precedent because if we see the vaccine coming from a US company, we’re likely to see the same type of behavior and hoarding by the US and other developed countries. With a pandemic like COVID-19, the problem won’t be solved until it’s sold for the whole world,” she said.