Future supplies of Remdesivir will only be available to the UK if it orders via an EU agreement.
The antiviral drug, originally developed for hepatitis and Ebola, has become invaluable in the fight against coronavirus.
That’s because, in severe cases of the illness, Remdesivir has proven to be a vitally important treatment. One study suggests that it can quicken recovery by an average of four days.
President Trump is understood to have been administered Remdesivir during his hospital treatment for coronavirus over the weekend.
But globally, supplies are limited. And the USA has bought up most of the world stocks.
The European Commission managed to get hold of 30,000 doses over the summer for the EU and UK, at a cost of €63 million. Those supplies have nearly been exhausted.
36 European countries, including all 27 EU member states and the UK, have decided to pool resources through a joint procurement.
I understand this new EU deal with the manufacturer, Gilead, is – hopefully – just a couple of days from completion.
Meanwhile the NHS is having to ration doses to the most urgent cases in the UK.
In the Czech Republic, hospitals were right on the brink of running out of Remdesivir last week. It comes at the very moment when the number of coronavirus cases there has skyrocketed.
The Czech Republic is in a state of emergency. But it does now have Remdesivir available.
The EU has provided 1,000 emergency doses, which should be enough for the next three to four weeks.
Czech Foreign Minister, Tomáš Petříček, praised the shipments as an example of “European cooperation”.
According to a source close to the EU’s Remdesivir negotiations, once the agreement is signed, European countries will be able to order in quantities they need.
The UK has previously been reluctant to sign up to EU joint procurements at a time when its Brexit message is to ‘take back control’ from Brussels.
Earlier this year, when it looked like large quantities of ventilators were going to be needed in the coronavirus battle, the UK did not take part in the EU’s joint procurement.
Initially Downing Street said Brexit was the reason. Later the government claimed it had not been informed in time.
The UK government has clearly changed tack when it comes to Remdesivir.
I have seen minutes from an internal EU health meeting in September, attended by UK officials, where the joint procurement of Remdesivir was discussed.
The terms of the agreement make clear its exclusivity.
“Remdesivir will be accessible to countries through this joint procurement exclusively, to ensure coordinated access to the medicine during the pandemic.”
EU meeting of health officials, 17 September 2020
An EU source confirmed that it means the UK’s supply is tied to the EU agreement. It cannot try to negotiate its own terms with the manufacturer.
Politically controversial perhaps, but surely in the midst of the current pandemic, putting the NHS – and ultimately people’s lives – first.