US snatches world's supply of virus drug
There aren't many causes for optimism when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic plaguing the world, especially for those who get infected and experience severe, life-threatening illness.
Now, one of just two potential COVID-19 treatments that's shown to be effective in trials has been made unavailable to the world - thanks to America.
The Trump administration has announced it purchased 500,000 doses of the drug remdesivir, representing the entirety of global stock.
Department of Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar celebrated the mega haul, which represents all of manufacturer Gilead's July supply and 90 per cent of its August and September production.
"President Trump has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorised therapeutic for COVID-19," Mr Azar said in a statement.
And the country has paid dearly for it.
Gilead set the price for remdesivir at $US390 ($A564) per vial, which will see a six-day course of treatment priced at $US3200 ($A4635).
But it's been revealed the cost of production is considerable less - an estimated $1 a day.
The arrangement raises concerns about how to prevent profiteering in the COVID-19 era, as well as how to ensure fair access to medicines, Associate Professor Barbara Mintzes from the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney said.
"If remdesivir does prove effective in treating COVID-19, the drug would be needed not only in the US, but globally, including in Australia."
The deal has raised eyebrows and sparked anger globally.
"The purchase of all available stocks of remdesivir from Gilead is unusual," Dr Phillip Reece, a consultant to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry, explained.
"Pharmaceutical companies generally make their products available internationally, subject to government approvals.
"Remdesivir is the only available antiviral option shown to reduce the duration of illness but is only available in limited quantities.
"The US has clearly decided that their citizens should get exclusive access to remdesivir until sufficient amounts of the drug can be manufactured for international markets."
The lack of international co-operation between industry and governments to "scale up" production of the drug, so all nations can benefit, is "a pity", Dr Reece said.
"It is worth noting that such co-operation occurred in the 1940s for the scaled-up production of the newly discovered antibiotic, penicillin. Co-operation between companies and government laboratories in the UK and US under the guidance of their respective governments saw a massive scale up of penicillin production to treat wounded soldiers from World War II.
"That sort of co-operation seems to have been forgotten in this current crisis."
While the race for a coronavirus vaccine continues, scientists and pharmaceutical companies are also working to test and finetune potential treatments in the interim.
"Remdesivir has shown early promise in clinical trials as a treatment for COVID-19 patients," says Dr Roger Lord, a lecturer at The Australian Catholic University and Research Fellow with The Prince Charles Hospital.
"It is not surprising that the United States has purchased virtually all available stocks of the drug for the next three months, given the 2.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19.
"Viral transmission continues to climb in the US and therefore the government is under immense pressure to address the situation."
Originally published as America's greedy COVID move slammed