Gilead Sciences headquarters sign is seen in Foster City, California on April 30, 2020. - Gilead Science's remdesivir, one of the most highly anticipated drugs being tested against the new coronavirus, showed positive results in a large-scale US government trial, the company said on April 29, 2020. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP)
Gilead Sciences headquarters sign is seen in Foster City, California on April 30, 2020. - Gilead Science's remdesivir, one of the most highly anticipated drugs being tested against the new coronavirus, showed positive results in a large-scale US government trial, the company said on April 29, 2020. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP)

The European Commission on Friday rushed to announce it has given the green light to anti-viral drug Remdesivir for treatment of COVID-19, making it the first drug authorized at the European Union (EU) level for the purpose.

EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides said the EU has expedited the authorization, approving the drug, made by American biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, in an exceptionally short timeframe.

“We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to secure efficient treatments or vaccine against the coronavirus,” said Kyriakides in a statement.
The question now is whether there are enough doses to be left at the disposal of the EU in the near future, as news broke this week that the United States has locked down all the production for July and 90 percent of it for August and September.

Gino Martini, chief scientist of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, said the U.S. action will put clinical supply chains under strain, and it will be down to Gilead to boost production in order to satisfy the demand.

He noted that Remdesivir is still classed as an investigational drug, and its use for COVID-19 in the United States is only permitted in emergency use.
“Scaling up medicines to a production level is not a trivial matter and is controlled by regulatory and quality control standards and so takes time,” he said.
The professor said he would expect Remdesivir to “become available simultaneously across the world” if the evidence continues to support the use of Remdesivir to treat COVID-19.

UNWILLING TO COOPERATE

A spokesman for the European Commission told a press conference on Thursday that Brussels heard of the U.S. move from media reports, meaning Washington didn’t bother to inform its allies beforehand.

The U.S. move seemed more annoying to European experts.

Ohid Yaqub, a senior lecturer at the Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex in England, said the buying-up of Remdesivir is disappointing “not necessarily because of the shortages it implies for other countries, but because it so clearly signals an unwillingness to cooperate with other countries.”
Karl Lauterbach, an epidemiologist and health expert of Social Democratic Party of Germany, called it an “unfriendly” action. “If we approached the vaccine this way later, we would certainly all have big problems,” Lauterbach told German broadcasting Deutschlandfunk.

PANIC PURCHASE

U.S. buying up three-month stock of Remdesivir is “a panic purchase,” according to Patrick Biecheler, managing partner with rich experience in the pharmaceutical industry at Roland Berger Partners, a Europe-based consulting company.

“It is a panic purchase given the current progress of the virus in the United States,” he told French radio station Europe 1 on Friday. The United States has reported more than 2.6 million confirmed infection cases and a death toll exceeding 127,000.

He recalled that U.S. President Donald Trump once wanted to deprive Canada of the respirators produced by 3M company.

“At that time (Canadian Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau had explained that from a diplomatic point of view and in terms of collaboration between countries, it was something very idiot to confiscate the stock of respirators,” he said.

Calling the act of buying up of Remdesivir stock “another awkwardness” reflecting the style of Trump, the consultant said that this posture “is not tenable, neither industrially, judicially nor diplomatically.”

COMMON GOOD

Earlier in May, French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi went underfire for remarks saying that once its vaccine under research goes to market, the United States had the right to pre-order because it has invested in it.

The French authorities immediately reacted by stressing that the COVID-19 vaccine must be a “global public good” and it is unacceptable for Sanofi to serve the United States first if it can deliver such a vaccine in the future.

Addressing a press conference on Friday, Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Programme, again highlighted the necessity of equitable access to life saving treatment.

“Obviously, there are many people around the world who are very sick with this disease and we want to ensure that everybody has access to the necessary life saving interventions,” he said.

To prevent war for medicine at a time of pandemic, Biecheler urged laboratories to propose generic manufacturing at the outset, for medicine of treatment as well as for vaccine, so as to avoid shortage of stock and provide necessary products at a lower price for less wealthy countries. Enditem (The story was written by Li Jizhi, and contributed by Wang Zichen, Zhang Jiawei, Liu Fang, Chen Chen, Zhang Yirong and Chen Junxia)

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