U.S. buys up worldwide stock of remdesivir, drug seen as potential COVID-19 treatment

WATCH: U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, alongside President Donald Trump, announced on Friday that the agency had authorized the emergency use of the drug remdesivir as treatment to be used on COVID-19 patients.

The United States has secured nearly the entire worldwide supply of remdesivir, a drug that’s proven effective for severely ill patients of the novel coronavirus — leaving hardly any for Canada and the rest of the world.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Monday it has secured more than 500,000 treatment courses of the drug from its sole manufacturer Gilead Sciences for American hospitals through September. Each treatment course uses an average of over six vials of the drug.

According to a news release, the buyout represents 100 per cent of Gilead’s projected production for July, 90 per cent of August’s production, and 90 per cent of production through September. A further “allocation for clinical trials” has also been secured.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar called the move “an amazing deal” struck by U.S. President Donald Trump “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,” Azar added in a statement.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization to Gilead on May 1 after a major study by the by the U.S. National Institutes of Health showed remdesivir can reduce recovery time for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

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The 250,000 treatment courses that the company had donated to the U.S. and other countries will run out in about a week. After that, treatment courses will cost $2,340 each for people covered by government health programs in the United States and other developed countries, Gilead announced Monday.

Gilead has a patent on remdesivir, making it the only company able to manufacture the drug. That effectively means any other country that wants it may have to wait until at least September to procure it.

Global News has reached out to Public Services and Procurement Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada for comment on the U.S. announcement.

Health Canada has approved two clinical trials of the drug for use against COVID-19, and is currently reviewing Gilead’s application to authorize remdesivir for treatment of the disease. It has yet to be approved or given emergency authorization in Canada.

The U.S. move is the latest in a string of roadblocks set up by the Trump administration as it has moved to stock up on medical supplies during the coronavirus pandemic, some of which have affected Canada specifically.

In April, U.S.-based company 3M said that it had been asked by the Trump administration not to supply N95 respirators to Canada. The White House later struck a new deal with the company that allowed the masks into Canada again.

That same month, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said around three to four million medical masks ordered from 3M were blocked at the U.S.-Canada border. Ford later clarified that 500,000 of those masks were released to Ontario.

—With files from the Associated Press

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© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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