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Six years ago, a team of scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began researching dozens of compounds supplied by Gilead Sciences for use in combating different viruses. And they discovered that one compound, in particular, appeared effective in treating Ebola.

Their work helped make it possible for the company to obtain patents for the compound, which is now known famously as remdesivir. Although it never panned out as an elixir for Ebola, remdesivir has since become the first medication to win regulatory approval to treat some hospitalized Covid-19 patients. So far, the repurposed drug has yielded $873 million in sales, with most coming from the U.S.


Those hefty sales have been fueled by controversial pricing, though. The federal government signed a deal for U.S. hospitals to pay $3,120 per treatment, the highest price in the world. Moreover, that deal occurred after the involvement of government scientists in discovering uses for the drug. One consumer group estimated U.S. taxpayers contributed $70 million to developing remdesivir.

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  • “Moreover, that deal occurred after the involvement of government scientists in discovering uses for the drug.” The comment in the article says almost all you need to know… the product was discovered by Gilead. It’s use, through experiments on a variety of maladies without foresight led to it being considered for ebola where it failed. Which Led further to looking at its effectiveness for COVID-19 where the WHO says it’s not very effective….what’s the fight over? Perhaps a better way to look at it is. There was a problem and a panic ensued and government researchers threw a lot of stuff against the wall to see if any of it stuck. Something did. But at no point did the compound appear to be (at least in this article) a product of the research of the government. At best, the government strategy of trialing a variety of compounds was for public health in an area where little research would likely get done and for which they might get an honorable mention. The compound created by Gilead found a use, great! The end game on this policy attempt to take that work product from the company appears to me to be a plausible short term win with a extraordinarily deleterious long term effect of companies unwilling to coordinate with a Department of Health and Human Services that ends with trying to take that very invention from its founders. Who would engage with such behavior? Thus, the entire exercise results in less not more quality therapeutics.

    • Hi CCP,

      Thanks for the note.

      I’m afraid you may have missed the point, though. The issue is the contribution by government scientists and any subsequent patent rights to the drug and/or how it is used.

      Will there be a court fight? I don’t know. I only know what the CDC told me.

      The final point you raise is part of an ongoing debate over the extent to which taxpayer funded efforts should accrue to Americans. Its certainly fair to express concern about stifling innovation. I think it’s also fair to express concern that access and affordability should be considered. Hence, we have such discussions.

      Hope this helps.
      ed at pharmalot

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