3rd Jun 2023

EU stands by anti-Covid drug, despite WHO doubts

  • The WHO found 'a lack of evidence that remdesivir improved outcomes that matter to patients' - but it has already been distributed by the EU (Photo: Jernej Furman)

The European Commission has not written off remdesivir to treat Covid-19, after the drug was distributed to tens of thousands of people - despite a recent statement from the World Health Organization (WHO) that the antiviral medicine is ineffective and should not be used.

"I will not get into a scientific analysis of remdesivir, this is for science to do that," said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Friday (20 November), when pressed on the issue.

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She noted contracts signed with pharmaceutical companies for vaccines have built-in liability clauses. "They have to be effective and safe," she said.

But the commission had already paid the US-based biopharmaceutical company Gilead some €70m to treat 33,380 people with remdesivir.

Those doses were distributed across the EU and the UK, between August and October.

"The medication has been disbursed in several instalments," said the European Commission in early October.

The commission then signed a €1bn joint-procurement contract with Gilead for 500,000 courses of the drug.

The antiviral, also known by the brand name Veklury, was given the green light by the European Medicines Agency.

Veklury contains the active substance remdesivir.

The agency said Veklury had cut recovery times for Covid patients with pneumonia requiring supplemental oxygen.

But guidelines issued by a panel at the WHO on Friday (20 November) now appear to contest those findings.

"The ... panel found a lack of evidence that remdesivir improved outcomes that matter to patients," it said.

"Especially given the costs and resource implications associated with remdesivir ... the panel felt the responsibility should be on demonstrating evidence of efficacy, which is not established by the currently available data," it added.

For its part, Gilead contested the findings by the panel.

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