Vol. 370, Issue 6517, pp. 642-643
Science‘s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Heising-Simons Foundation
PHOTO: ALEX BRANDON/AP PHOTO
October was a good month for Gilead Sciences, the giant U.S. manufacturer of antivirals. On 8 October, the company inked an agreement to supply the European Union with its drug remdesivir as a treatment for COVID-19—a deal potentially worth more than $1 billion. Two weeks later, on 22 October, remdesivir became the first COVID-19 drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The decisions mean Gilead can cash in big in two major markets, both with soaring COVID-19 cases.
But they baffled scientists who have closely watched the clinical trials of remdesivir unfold over the past 6 months—and who have many questions about its worth. At best, one large, well-designed study found that remdesivir, which must be infused intravenously, modestly reduced the time to recover from COVID-19 in hospitalized patients with severe illness. A few smaller studies found no impact on the disease whatsoever, and none has found that the antiviral reduces patients’ level of SARS-CoV-2, the causative virus. Then, on 15 October, the fourth and largest study delivered what some believed was a coup de grâce: The World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) giant Solidarity trial showed that remdesivir does not reduce mortality or the time COVID-19 patients take to recover. (See link for article)
Going back to 1997, Donald Rumsfeld chaired the Board of Directors at Gilead and after 2001 he held share packages valued at $5-25 Million. Gilead originally developed Tamiflu. George P Shultz, US Secretary of State also was on the board. He sold stocks at a value of more than $7 million. CA governor’s Pete Wilson’s wife also sat on the board.
“‘I don’t know of any biotech company that’s’ so politically well-connected [as Gilead],‘ Andrew McDonald, of the analyst firm Think Equity Partners, told Fortune.” (Source: “Virus Mania, How the Medical Industry Continually Invents Epidemics Making Billion Dollar Profits At Our Expense”)
Approximately $70 million in U.S. taxpayer funding began Gilead’s partnership with the U.S. Army, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop remdesivir. Initially for treating Ebola, it failed to show benefit and was shelved. If remdesivir is used to treat COVID-19, Gilead shareholders, not the taxpayers, will profit.