EU looking to ramp-up production of COVID-19 antiviral remdesivir

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Germany has only a few hundred doses of COVID-19 antiviral remdesivir, Health Minister Jens Spahn told European Union lawmakers on Monday, saying he was working to ensure the drug could be produced in Europe.

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The European Commission, the EU executive arm, said on Monday it was discussing ways of ramping up the production capacity of Gilead Sciences Inc, the U.S. company that produces remdesivir, the only drug granted a conditional marketing authorisation by the EU for its use in COVID-19 patients.

“We do not have a huge inventory now, (it’s) a few hundred doses that we have,” Spahn said at a video-conference hearing organised by the European Parliament. Germany is the EU’s largest country and currently holds the EU presidency.

Last week Spahn said Germany had sufficient reserves of remdesivir to treat the limited number of COVID-19 patients the country currently has.

He said boosting the drug’s availability in Europe was not only a matter of acquiring doses from the company, but also of moving production to Europe.

Concerns over the availability of the drug increased after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said last week it had secured nearly all supplies of remdesivir over the next three months.

A spokesman for the European Commission told Reuters that on Monday the EU executive had talks with Gilead about its production capacity, but declined to elaborate as discussions were confidential.

Last week Brussels said it was in talks with Gilead to obtain doses of remdesivir for the 27 European Union countries.

Spahn urged Gilead to guarantee sufficient supplies to Europe.

“We expect from an international company like Gilead that you cannot just wish for access to the EU market and high prices for other products. I also expect supplies to Europe and into the European Union,” he told lawmakers.

Spahn said he had discussed the matter with the U.S. health secretary and with Gilead.

France’s drugs regulator told Reuters on Monday it had taken steps with Gilead to obtain sufficient doses of remdesivir.

The Netherlands’ health ministry said the country had sufficient doses of the drug at the moment, and Gilead had agreed to increase supplies in the near future.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels; additional reporting by Matthias Blamont in Paris and Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; Editing by William Maclean and Janet Lawrence