“The best news is that most of our patients have already been discharged, which is excellent. We had only two patients who died, ” said Kathleen Mullane, a University of Chicago infectious disease specialist who oversees the Remdesivir tests at the hospital.
The announcement, published by a medical website, STAT, in the USA, immediately spread like wildfire and has caused global stock exchange rises. Most European exchanges opened more than three percent higher.
Gilead is a giant company that is part of the S&P 500 index of the 500 largest US companies. Although it has developed cancer drugs in the past, it has specialized in viral research and antiviral drugs in recent years, targeting HIV and Ebola, among others.
The company already has an Aids prevention tool on the market intended for people who are at “high sexual risk”, such as prostitutes and homosexuals.
Apparently, the California biotech company is engaged in several concurrent clinical trials with Remdesivir, both in North America and Europe. Until these trials have been completed, there will be no certainty about the drug’s efficacy to fight Covid-19 though. Last month, President Donald Trump advocated Remdesivir as one of the remedies for America to curb the pandemic.
Gilead reacted cautiously to the news from Chicago. “What we can say at this point is that we look forward to seeing the data from current studies as soon as it becomes available,” the company said in a statement.
The Chicago trial data is for a total of 400 serious patients and will be released soon.
The Chinese Institute of Virology in Wuhan, funded partly by the US, has already applied for a Chinese “use patent” on January 21, 2020 to use the drug in China on Covid-19 patients.
Funding for the development of Remdesivir was advanced by the US taxpayer, to the tune of $79 million. Gilead also obtained a so-called “orphan drug” status for it on March 23 this year. This rating by the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is intended for drugs used by less than 200 000 Americans and ensures further financial and legal monopoly status for medical companies, along with tax exemptions and government fees.
So not only did the US government pay for Gilead’s research, but the US taxpayer runs the risk of not receiving anything back from the company through taxes.
Since more than 200 000 people will need treatment, the company relinquished its “orphan drug” status on March 25. However, Gilead Sciences retains patent rights to Remdesivir in more than 70 countries that will secure its profits.
Former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is but one of the politically connected investors in Gilead Sciences that owns the rights to Tamiflu, the influenza remedy that was once the most-sought after drug in the world.
Rumsfeld served as Gilead (Research)’s chairman from 1997 to 2001.
Biospace reported earlier this week however that “about 25 percent of patients receiving [Remdesivir] have severe side effects, including multiple-organ dysfunction syndrome, septic shock, acute kidney injury and low blood pressure”.
And even worse: “Another 23 percent demonstrated evidence of liver damage on lab tests,” Biospace reported.
A recent global survey of over 6 000 doctors found hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin rated the “most effective” treatments for coronavirus. Both these drugs are cheap and cost around $1 for a full course, while Gilead’s Remdesivir may cost around $1 000 for a full course.