There is a shortage of remdesivir drugs globally. It is the main remedy for COVID-19 that was given to President Donald Trump two times since he tested positive. The situation makes NHS ration the usage of the drug with lots of pressure on manufacturers. They have to allow other companies to supply this drug to them.
Remdesivir is produced by a Gilead Sciences of the US, and it one out of two drugs that cure coronavirus. It helps patients recover fast and shortens the length of hospitalization. However, it is not the ultimate cure or equal to an approved vaccine.
Dexamethasone steroid is the other remedy that is pretty available worldwide as it is an old drug. Unlike dexamethasone, remdesivir is under patents. Thus, no other company can make the drug apart from Gilead or need permission to manufacture it. As results in the COVID-19 trials showed positive impacts of remdesivir, Gilead couldn’t meet the demands.
In June, America bought all the stocks of remdesivir virtually for the next three months. However, even the hospitals in the US are falling short of the drug right now.
Since the European Commission acquires drugs on behalf of all member states, there is a shortage of supplies for places like the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and the UK.
Shortage of Remdesivir makes NHS ration usage
In the UK, doctors can only give remdesivir to people who will definitely benefit from it. The orders came through to them after stocks were limited. NHS acquired these drugs earlier in 2020 only for trials.
A person from the Department of Health and Social Care said that they are well aware of the demand for remdesivir due to the rise in coronavirus cases. The person also informed that NHS had asked hospitals to prioritize giving the drug to patients who can benefit from it.
The department sent out a “supply disruption note” on September 29 to all the doctors. They were asked to go through a stock-take in hospitals to make sure they know the limited stock available to them. The authorities have set aside some stock centrally to allocate the in places of dire need.
People who have coronavirus pneumonia and face breathing issues must get well within five days. This is possible if they consume remdesivir.
Senior visiting researcher from Liverpool University, Dr. Andrew Hill, said they were well aware of the shortage of remdesivir. It was predicted in June itself as the US secured the production of this drug till October. According to the update he had, some hospitals in the UK have a few doses left. Other hospitals are looking for ways to ration it by giving fewer doses than five to each patient. The process is working well for most, and people are recovering as well.
Note to doctors regarding the shortage of Remdesivir
The note sent to doctors suggests that only if patients have pneumonia and coronavirus, they can give them the drug. However, giving antivirals can work better than this drug for such patients. Hill also said that if Donald Trump were admitted to an NHS hospital, he would not be eligible to get medicine.
FDA sent a letter to Gilead to allow broaden the criteria, so remdesivir is largely available. Everyone who needs the drug should have the medicine irrespective or being in oxygen or not. This, in turn, will increase the demand for the drug.
Lower-income countries are producing generic versions
While the rich countries run out of the drug, low-income countries don’t see a shortage of remdesivir. The patent holder granted a license to nine manufacturing companies across India, Pakistan, and Egypt. However, these countries don’t have an allowance to sell the drug to high economic countries.
How can the UK get a supply of Remdesivir?
There is only one solution for a country like the United Kingdom to have ample supply of the drug. It is by issuing a mandatory license that bypasses patents from Gilead and allows acquisition from generic companies. WTO rules allow this in situations where the world is in need, but the policy is rarely used.
The country can also run a trial of generic drug versions just how they did when facing a problem to acquire Truvada from Gilead. The medicine helped a condition called pre-exposure prophylaxis to protect people from HIV infection. The Impact Trial from NHS rolled in 26,000 people for the generic version of that drug.
Hill said that Gilead cannot stop the United Kingdom from taking this step. They can try and sue NHS, but to avoid such impacts, they should supply ample remdesivir doses to Europe.
The company informed that they are an increasing production for the drug through the brand name of Veklury. From January, the company has been trying to meet global demands to manufacture the drug for fighting coronavirus. They are working at their manufacturing sites, external companies, and partnered with industry peers.
From October onwards, the company should have enough drugs to meet global demands. The are working hand in hand with European Commission to create equitable access of the drug. People who need it the most across all European countries must have the drug, including the United Kingdom. They acknowledge the demands from the Department of Health and are trying to cater to them as soon as possible.