CORRECTED-EU urged to review remdesivir supply deal after COVID trial results
(Corrects the name of the expert in Par. 4)
By Francesco Guarascio
BRUSSELS, October 16 (Reuters). The European Union should renegotiate a € 1 billion ($ 1.17 billion) deal it signed with Gilead last week for a six-month supply of the COVID-19 drug remdesivir after getting poor results in a large study had shown, experts said on Friday.
In a strike against one of the few drugs used to treat people with COVID-19, the World Health Organization's solidarity study on Friday showed that remdesivir appeared to have little or no effect on mortality or length of hospital stays in patients with COVID-19 has the respiratory disease.
The trial results were announced a week after the EU announced the largest ever contract with Gilead to supply 500,000 courses of the antiviral drug at a cost of € 2,070 per treatment, which Gilead said was the standard for affluent countries.
The Commission "must explain the reasons for the rush to finalize the latest contract with Gilead and review it in the light of the results of the attempted solidarity," said Yannis Natsis, who represents patient organizations on the board of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the EU -Drug Agency.
The EU announced on October 8th that it had signed the supply agreement with the US company on behalf of its 27 member states and 10 partner countries, including the UK.
Gilead has known of the results of solidarity since October 6, the WHO said, citing disclosure rules as part of the solidarity process.
Gilead told Reuters that it had received a "heavily edited manuscript" from the WHO in late September that contained different information than the final document released on Friday.
"Time is of the essence"
The Commission's decision came after EU countries warned of a shortage of remdesivir in their hospitals, while COVID-19 infections re-emerged across Europe.
The contract does not oblige the countries to buy Remdesivir, although it binds them to the agreed price.
Gilead did not comment on whether the price of remdesivir for wealthy countries could change after the WHO process, and the company questioned its findings.
"Since time is of the essence - we are in a state of public health emergency - we need to invest upfront not only in vaccine development, but also in access to therapeutics," said a European Commission spokesman.
He added that the EMA will examine solidarity results and data from other studies on COVID treatments "to see if changes are needed to the way these medicines are used".
However, the spokesman did not comment on whether the EU was aware of the solidarity results before signing the deal with Gilead. Nor did he respond to questions about whether the price agreed with Gilead could be renegotiated.
"The EU should reconsider the prices to be paid for remdesivir. Why pay 1 billion euros for a drug with no impact on survival?" said Andrew Hill, a senior visiting scholar in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Liverpool.
He said generic versions of the drug made in India sold for 200 euros a course. ($ 1 = 0.8525 euros) (reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; additional reporting by John Miller, editing by Gareth Jones)
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