The race is on to discover, develop, and — pending government approval — distribute a cure for COVID-19. But while a vaccine may still be months away, one American biotech firm is pushing out an experimental drug that may prove a viable treatment for patients suffering from the disease.
Gilead Sciences, Inc. announced in a statement Saturday that it would be increasing its supply of a medication known as remdesivir and is prepared to donate more than 1.5 million doses of the drug to hospitals hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, The Hill reported.
According to Gilead CEO and chairman Daniel O’Day, those 1.5 million doses equate to a full course of treatment for “well over” 140,000 patients.
The drugs will be made immediately available for “compassionate use, expanded access, and clinical trials,” with more on the way for broader distribution pending final regulatory approval, O’Day said, according to the Hill.
“The right thing to do”
The CEO stressed in his Saturday statement that remdesivir has not yet been proven as a “safe and effective treatment” for the coronavirus. It “is still an investigational medicine,” he wrote, “and has not been approved by regulatory authorities anywhere in the world.”
O’Day went on: “[W]hile we feel the greatest sense of urgency in our work with remdesivir, we must take the responsible, ethical approach of determining whether it is indeed a safe, effective treatment. This is why multiple clinical trials for remdesivir are underway, involving thousands of patients with COVID-19 across the world.”
Despite the remaining unknowns, O’Day said a decision was made by Gilead in January to ramp up the acquisition of raw materials and expand production capacity to dramatically increase the supply of the drug in anticipation of its approval.
Those steps, taken early, have allowed Gilead to shorten the timeline of production from roughly one year to about six months, O’Day revealed in his statement. He also said his company has already compiled a supply of 1.5 million doses that it would donate no-cost to patients and hospitals in need, as The Hill noted.
“Providing our existing supplies at no charge is the right thing to do, to facilitate access to patients as quickly as possible and in recognition of the public emergency posed by this pandemic,” the CEO wrote Saturday.
In the meantime, the company has “set an ambitious goal,” O’Day said, “of producing more than 500,000 treatment courses by October and more than 1 million treatment courses by the end of this year.”
Changing the game
The news serves as just the latest example of a private company stepping up to address the public health crisis that has been sweeping the nation in recent weeks. According to The Hill, there are currently “no approved treatments for COVID-19,” a fact O’Day and others are trying to fix. In fact, a combination of an anti-malaria drug an antibiotic has been touted by President Donald Trump and others as a possible “game-changer.”
With more than 367,000 Americans infected and over 10,000 dead as of Monday evening, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker, that “game-changer” can’t come soon enough.