Trump Administration Buys up Nearly All the World's Supply of Coronavirus Drug Remdesivir
The U.S. has bought up almost all of the world's supply of remdesivir, one of only two drugs shown to work against the new coronavirus.
The move is in keeping with the Trump administration's "America first" buzzword towards the global pandemic and raises concerns about what the administration will do if and when a vaccine is developed.
"Imagine this was a vaccine," Liverpool University senior visiting research fellow Dr. Andrew Hill told The Guardian. "That would be a firestorm. But perhaps this is a taste of things to come."
The U.S. has secured more than 500,000 treatment courses of the drug through September, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Monday. That amounts to 100 percent of drugmaker Gilead's production for July and 90 percent for August and September.
"President Trump has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorized therapeutic for COVID-19," HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in the announcement. "To the extent possible, we want to ensure that any American patient who needs remdesivir can get it. The Trump Administration is doing everything in our power to learn more about life-saving therapeutics for COVID-19 and secure access to these options for the American people."
NEWS: HHS has announced an agreement to secure large supplies of the drug remdesivir for the United States from Gil… https://t.co/C03DffP4LC— HHS.gov (@HHS.gov)1593440470.0
But the administration's actions will make it harder for people in other countries to access the drug.
"They've got access to most of the drug supply [of remdesivir], so there's nothing for Europe," Hill told The Guardian.
Remdesivir was the first drug to be approved by U.S. licensing authorities to treat the new coronavirus. It is also the only drug currently approved by the European Medicines Agency to treat COVID-19, EuroNews pointed out. It has been shown to reduce the amount of time seriously ill coronavirus patients spend in the hospital from 15 to 11 days. It has not been shown to speed the recovery time of people with mild or moderate cases. There is also no evidence that it increases a patient's chance of surviving, according to The Independent.
The only other drug shown to work against the virus is a cheap and widely available steroid called dexamethasone, which Oxford University researchers said had reduced the risk of death by a third in severely ill patients.
The administration's buy-up announcement came the same day that Gilead said it was pricing remdesivir at $3,120 per treatment course. That announcement also earned the Trump administration criticism, this time for failing to push for a cheaper price for a drug whose development was partly publicly funded.
"Gilead did not make remdesivir alone," Public Citizen's Access to Medicines Program director Peter Maybarduk said. "Public funding was indispensable at each stage, and government scientists led the early drug discovery team. Allowing Gilead to set the terms during a pandemic represents a colossal failure of leadership by the Trump administration."
The decision to buy up most of the drug's supplies through September also follows a pattern of administration actions that have prioritized the U.S. over international cooperation in fighting the virus.
The German government criticized an alleged attempt in March by the U.S. to secure exclusive rights to a coronavirus vaccine being developed by German company CureVac, EuroNews reported.
Then, in May, French company Sanofi said the U.S. would have first access to its vaccine if it proved effective, until criticism from the French government prompted the company to reverse its stance, according to The Guardian.
The Trump administration also asked 3M not to sell N95 respirators to Canada, the company claimed in April, as Global News reported. The masks were eventually allowed to cross the border.
The U.S. continues to lead the world in both coronavirus deaths and cases, at more than 2.6 million cases and more than 127,000 deaths, according to Wednesday morning figures from Johns Hopkins University. Last week, the country broke its record with a daily tally of 40,000 new cases, according to The Guardian. Texas, Arizona, California and Florida have all been forced to reverse reopening plans.
"We are going in the wrong direction," National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci told the Senate, as The Guardian reported. "I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around."
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Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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