The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Gilead Sciences’ expensive antiviral drug remdesivir to treat Covid-19, expanding its earlier emergency use authorization and guaranteeing huge profits for the company.
Remdesivir has become the first and only drug to be officially approved in the US for treating infection with the novel coronavirus after the FDA issued its decision on Thursday. The move expands on a May emergency use authorization, which allowed doctors to use it to treat hospitalized Covid-19 patients.
Gilead has issued a statement confirming the drug will be used for Covid-19 patients “requiring hospitalization,” suggesting not much will change regarding treatment recommendations. Given intravenously, it has helped shorten the duration of illness in some hospitalized patients, particularly those receiving supplemental oxygen. However, there is no indication it increases the likelihood of survival.
Following the FDA’s green light, trials using remdesivir in combination with other drugs – including antibody treatments such as the one received by President Donald Trump during his hospitalization for Covid-19 – are expected to continue.
The drug was initially developed to fight Ebola, though it proved ineffective against that virus – if relatively safe for patients. It works by interfering with viral reproduction.
Unlike different treatments approved by the FDA to treat other conditions and deployed by doctors against Covid-19 without express FDA authorization, such as the off-patent drugs hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, remdesivir is expensive – priced at $3,120 for a five-day course. The cost announcement met with public outcry back in June, as many Americans have lost their health insurance along with their jobs during the pandemic and are unlikely to be able to afford such a hefty price tag.