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Remdesivir Should Be in the Public Domain; Gilead’s Licensing Deal Picks Winners and Losers

Statement of Peter Maybarduk, Director, Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Program

Note: Gilead Sciences today announced a licensing arrangement with five generics manufacturers to facilitate international manufacture and distribution of remdesivir, the experimental treatment for COVID-19. According to Gilead’s statement, the licenses would allow sales from these other manufacturers in certain countries but exclude others. The more than 70 countries excluded would have to buy remdesivir from Gilead at its monopoly price or overcome Gilead’s claimed patents. The terms of the licenses have not been made public. 

Gilead still wants to control remdesivir. Gilead needs to get used to giving up that control.

Federal scientists led the team that found that remdesivir was active against coronaviruses. Public investment supported and continues to support every stage of remdesivir’s development. The public has contributed a minimum of $70.5 million to remdesivir’s development, including through early federal grants and ongoing clinical trials around the world today. The real total probably is much higher.

While Gilead’s announced licenses enable key international manufacturing capacity, they also are designed to discourage generic competition in large middle-income countries, such as Brazil, China and Mexico, where treatment needs may be especially serious. These countries will confront Gilead’s monopoly pricing. Perhaps even more serious, nearly half the world’s population appears to fall outside the license territory. Gilead has a responsibility to demonstrate how it would supply enough remdesivir for billions of people in the excluded countries, should remdesivir prove safe and effective for coronavirus treatment.

More than donating remdesivir doses, Gilead should donate its technology. Remdesivir should be in the public domain. Gilead should commit its patents, data and know-how to the public domain so that researchers around the world can investigate its efficacy and manufacturers can help bring supply to scale.