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EXCLUSIVE-U.S. hospitals turn down remdesivir supplies, limit use to sickest COVID-19 patients

Sept 11 (Reuters) - U.S. hospitals have turned down about a third of their allocated supplies of the COVID-19 drug remdesivir since July as need for the costly antiviral wanes, according to unpublished government statistics provided to Reuters by a U.S. pharmacists’ group.

Some hospitals said they are still buying the Gilead Sciences medicine to build inventory in case the pandemic accelerates over the winter. But they said current supplies are adequate, in part because they are limiting use to severely ill patients.

The Food and Drug Administration has allowed more liberal remdesivir use, but 6 out of 8 major hospital systems contacted by Reuters said they were not using it for moderate cases.

The slowdown suggests that a shortage of the drug is over and threatens Gilead’s efforts to expand use of remdesivir, which it sells under the brand name Veklury in some countries.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told hospitals and other healthcare organizations on Friday that between July 6 and September 8, state and territory public health systems accepted about 72% of the remdesivir they were offered, Michael Ganio, senior director of pharmacy practice and quality at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, told Reuters.

Hospitals in turn took only about two-thirds of what states and territories accepted, he added. It was not immediately clear what happened to the surplus supplies.

Neither Gilead nor HHS immediately responded to requests for comment.

A surplus of remdesivir - which costs $3,120 for a 6-vial intravenous course - marks a turnaround from earlier in the pandemic, when supplies of the drug had fallen short of demand in some regions.

Government-led distribution of remdesivir will expire at the end of September. Hospitals said they have little information on availability after that.

Remdesivir was first authorized by the FDA in May for emergency use in COVID-19 patients hospitalized and on oxygen support after data showed that it helped shorten hospital recovery time.

The agency last month expanded use to hospitalized patients who do not require oxygen support, based on data published in the JAMA medical journal showing that the drug provided a modest benefit for those patients.

The newer data has left many experts unconvinced.

Dr. Aneesh Mehta, chief of infectious diseases services at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital, said Emory is focusing supplies on patients likely to benefit the most.

“I am not terribly impressed with the study,” said Dr. Adarsh Bhimraj, an infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. He said he remains “skeptical” about using remdesivir in patients with moderate COVID, especially given the price. (Reporting By Deena Beasley; editing by Peter Henderson and Bill Berkrot)

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