By Thomas White
In what should be positive news it looks like Remdesivir, an antiviral drug developed in the wake of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, could be used to help treat patients with severe cases of Covid-19. The drug has not been proven to be a cure, but it can alleviate the worst effects of the disease. Remdesivir was developed with at least $79 million of US government funding according to a paper published by KEI.
The needless dark cloud in this otherwise silver lining comes in the form of the company that has the patent for the drug, Gilead Sciences. This is a corporation well-known for its heartless and cruel price-gouging practices toward vulnerable groups such as cancer patients and people with HIV. For example Truvada, a drug to help prevent the spread of HIV, is sold by Gilead at a price of $2000 a month while having a production cost of $6.
This infamous money-hungry corporation is making every effort to cash in on the global Covid-19 pandemic and the suffering of those affected. The 1983 Orphan Drug Act in the US was an attempt to lure private profit-focused pharmaceutical companies to make products that treat rare diseases by offering special inducements to do so. The designation allows the company to profit exclusively for seven years from the “product” and will prevent generic alternatives being available in the US.
Using a loophole in the law Gilead sought to get Remdesivir declared an “orphan” drug by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The law is reserved for drugs that treat illnesses that affect fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S. But a loophole allows drugs that treat more common illnesses to be classified as orphans if the designation is given before the disease reaches that threshold. Therefore, as only 40,000 people had tested positive for Covid-19 when it was declared, Remdesivir technically qualifies.
The profit system
However, Gilead’s attempts at ruthless profiteering in the midst of a global pandemic rightfully drew harsh criticism from many, including Bernie Sanders. Although the FDA granted them this special status on Monday, on Wednesday Gilead asked for it to be rescinded, bowing to pressure from below.
Their callous actions shine a light on a simple truth: that profit has no place in healthcare and that the prioritisation of corporate welfare before the real needs of ordinary people is a symptom of a sick system. During this crisis we are seeing governments across the world sacrifice the lives of heroic healthcare workers and vulnerable sections of the population in order to keep the economy going and to protect the profits of the bosses.
We believe that in order to fight this pandemic we should take companies like Gilead and the whole healthcare industry into democratic public ownership with resources being allocated on the basis of need by workers in healthcare who know best what is needed and where.
It is not acceptable for the lives and health of ordinary working-class people to be endangered so that Gilead stockholders can make a profit, but a system that puts the pursuit of profit above all else is inevitably a system that cannot provide the adequate healthcare we need.