Federal government no longer controlling key COVID-19 drug

Hospitals can order a coronavirus treatment directly from Gilead Sciences and its distributor instead of relying on the government as a go-between, the Trump administration announced Thursday, saying supply of the drug exceeds demand.

Remdesivir, sold under the brand name Veklury, and other therapies are being wielded against the coronavirus and will remain a key tool even after the approval of a vaccine.

The U.S. government bought up much of the drugmaker’s supply of remdesivir in June after clinical trials suggested it could help COVID-19 patients recover faster. Federal officials wanted to lock down the drug for Americans during the scramble to get the pandemic under control.

“Now, federal government oversight of the allocation of Veklury is not required because the drug is no longer a scarce resource—a tribute to progress we have made against COVID-19 and to the strength of our partnerships with the private sector,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.

Johanna Mercier, chief commercial officer at Gilead Sciences, said there is “enough supply on hand to treatment every existing COVID hospitalization in the U.S.”

She said they’re also confident they can meet demand even if the disease surges.

Though the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t fully approved a treatment for COVID-19, remdesivir is part of an expanding arsenal of drugs with emergency or temporary authorization for use on coronavirus patients.

A steroid, dexamethasone, has been shown to help some patients survive and — perhaps most exciting of all — companies are reporting positive results from trials involving synthetically produced proteins known as “monoclonal antibodies.”

Scientists say therapies will remain a key part of the response for the foreseeable future.

Efforts to inoculate the American public will stretch months into 2021 and the eventual vaccine will not be 100% protective, so doctors will rely on groundbreaking treatments to keep people out of the hospital or recover faster.

“There’s two issues — no vaccine works perfectly in everyone. Secondly, there will be some people who don’t end up getting the vaccine or are infected before they are able to get vaccinated,” said Dr. John Redd, HHS assistant health secretary for preparedness and response.

The administration made 500,000 doses of remdesivir available to states and territories between July and September.

Dr. Redd said localities and hospitals were not accepting or needing the full allocation made available to them, so the government no longer needed to be involved.

“We see this as a very good sign, and it’s been a key indicator that supply of remdesivir now outweighs demand,” Dr. Redd said.

Officials said AmerisourceBergen will remain the sole distributor of drug through the end of the year, and the price of the drug will not change. It will still be Gilead’s wholesale acquisition price — $3,2000 per treatment course, or $520 per vial.

Patients generally do not pay directly for drugs like remdesivir, since the costs are rolled into overall treatment costs paid by Medicare or private insurers.

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