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COVID-19 drug: US government's supply of remdesivir runs out in June

06:48 | 09/06/2020

The US government's supply of remdesivir, the only drug proven to help treat coronavirus patients, will run out at the end of the month.  

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The US government's current supply of remdesivir, the only drug known to work against Covid-19, will run out at the end of the month, Dr. Robert Kadlec, a US Department of Health and Human Services official, told CNN.

covid 19 drug us governments supply of remdesivir runs out in june
The US government's supply of remdesivir (pictured) is running out and it will send out its last shipment of the drug during the week of June 29

The government's last shipment of the drug will go out the week of June 29. Gilead Sciences, the company that makes the drug, is ramping up to make more, but it's unclear how much will be available this summer.

"Right now, we're waiting to hear from Gilead what is their expected delivery availability of the drug as we go from June to July," Kadlec said. "We're kind of not in negotiations, but in discussions with Gilead as they project what the availability of their product will be."

According to Daily Mail, studies have shown that the antiviral, made by California-based Gilead Sciences, helped patients go from relying on oxygen to leaving the hospital in two weeks.

This led to the US Food and Drug Administration issuing emergency authorization for remdesivir last month for people hospitalized with COVID-19.

Remdesivir was developed by Gilead Sciences to treat Ebola, the deadly fever that emerged in West Africa in 2014.

The medication appears to help stop the replication of viruses like coronavirus and Ebola alike.

It's not entirely clear how the drug accomplishes this, but it appears to prevent the genetic material of the virus, known as RNA, from being able to copy itself.

For coronavirus patients, remdesivir is administered via an IV for either five days or 10 days.

covid 19 drug us governments supply of remdesivir runs out in june
Gilead is ramping up production but it's unclear how much of the drug will be available for patients over the summer. Pictured: Sailors transport the first patient aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy into the casualty receiving area, March 29

According to Sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com, starting in early May, the government began distributing a supply of remdesivir donated by Gilead. The company has provided 940,000 vials of the drug, or enough for about 121,000 patients, according to HHS.

Now that the free supply is almost gone, there are concerns Gilead will charge a high price.

“The price that Gilead can charge, as with any pharmaceutical in America, appears to be the sky’s the limit — whatever sick and dying people will pay,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means health subcommittee.

“HHS has not responded to any of our inquiries about pricing and what it’s doing to protect the taxpayer investment in remdesivir, a drug that would not even be used but for the taxpayer investment of about $70 million in its development,” Doggett told CNN, adding that taxpayers were “basically the angel investors in remdesivir.”

covid 19 drug us governments supply of remdesivir runs out in june
Photo: KCRG

Now, HHS is using a distribution formula based on the number of patients reported by hospitals to the agency. And while HHS didn’t originally disclose where remdesivir was going, the agency is now publishing on its website how much drug is going to each state.

“We learned from that first day’s shipment that we needed to find a better way to do it,” Dr. John Redd, an HHS official, said in an interview with CNN. “So we took a pause and shifted to a better, improved model that targets exactly where the patients are, and where they’re currently receiving treatment.”

He said the amount of remdesivir distributed this past week could potentially treat about half the COVID patients in US hospitals, based on the number of patients reported by hospitals to HHS.

The federal government ships the drug to state health departments and those departments decide which hospitals will receive it and how much they’ll get. Remdesivir isn’t appropriate for all COVID patients, however, and doctors ultimately decide which patients are treated with the drug.

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