EU makes one billion-euro bet on Gilead's COVID drug before trial results

François Guarascio

BRUSAL (Reuters) – The European Union decided to reimburse Gilead, just before the final findings of the largest COVID-19 study, more than one billion euro (1,2 billion dollars) for the six-month provision of its antiviral medication remdesivir.

The agreement was reached against a backdrop of scarcity in the EU countries which may have intensified the decision until conclusive findings on the effectiveness of remdesivir and its possible toxicity.

The EU signed the contract last week with the US firm, allowing it to order up to 500,000 remdesivir course courses in its 27 member states and 10 affiliate countries, including Britain, over the next six months.

For each care period, for a total of 1 billion, Gilead said, the price that was negotiated, and previously unknown, is 2,070 euros (2,440 dollars).

Notwithstanding the broad deal, the price per course compares to that charged by EU countries in a much smaller supply arrangement negotiated in July in order to treat nearly 30,000 patients with a six-dose course in 5 days.

Gilead claimed the price for other richer countries was the same.

In the revised arrangement, the European government that is covered by the contract can only allow contributions to Gilead as it purchases doses.

A European Commission spokesperson discussing the deal with Gilead refused to say if orders had already been placed.

It is supposed to report its final findings soon before the Unity Trial by the World Health Organisation and the biggest one so far on COVID therapies, which may take place earlier this week.

"The EU should analyze the outcomes of this recent WHO study and see if it is worth costing more than 2,000 euro per patient for this care," said Andrew Hill, a senior research visitor at Liverpool Department of Pharmacology.

Gilead refused to speculate on the potential adjustment of price for remdesivir doses to the wealthier countries following the outcome of the WHO trial.

Solidarity investigated four potential COVID-19 medications: remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir / ritonavir and mixed with interferon lopanivir / ritonavir.

In July, hydroxychloroquine and the mixture of HIV medication lopinavir / ritonavir were discontinued after mortality in hospitalized patients was not decreased.

A conditional marketing license for COVID-19 patients in need of oxygen has been awarded for Remdesivir in European Union.

The medication has not seen an impact on milder and more serious cases, the EU Medication Agency said.

The department investigates the possible detrimental impact of remdesivir on the kidneys.

(Reportage by Mark Potter and Jane Merriman; Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio)