The United States is buying nearly all the next three months’ projected production of Covid-19 treatment remdesivir from US manufacturer Gilead.
The US health department announced on Tuesday it had agreed to buy 500,000 doses for use in American hospitals.
Tests suggest remdesivir cuts recovery times, though it is not yet clear if it improves survival rates.
Gilead did sign a licensing deal in May for production outside the US but it is still in its early stages.
“President Trump has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorised therapeutic for Covid-19,” Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.
A course of treatment in the US will cost $2,340 (£1,900).
Nine companies can make the drug under licence outside the US for distribution in 127 mostly poorer countries, and the cost is lower. But the project is still in its early stages.
Additional quantities are being manufactured for use in clinical trials.
But critics say the US move to buy up so much stock from Gilead itself undermines international co-operation on Covid, given that other countries have taken part in trials of remdesivir, originally an anti-viral against Ebola.
“The trial that gave the result that allowed remdesivir to sell their drug wasn’t just done in the US. There were patients participating through other European countries, in the UK as well, and internationally, Mexico and other places,” Oxford University’s Prof Peter Horby told BBC Radio 4.
He said the move also had implications for any possible future vaccine, with the need for “a much stronger framework if we are going to develop these things and they’re going to be used for national emergencies”.
Senior Sussex University lecturer, Ohid Yaqub, said: “It so clearly signals an unwillingness to co-operate with other countries and the chilling effect this has on international agreements about intellectual property rights.”
Some in the US have criticised the purchase price, as taxpayer money had helped fund remdesivir’s development.
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