Yes, The Controversial Company Making Covid Drugs Is Called Gilead. Yes, Like The Handmaid’s Tale

The company have garnered criticism for pricing and selling American almost all their supply of remdesivir for three months

Handmaid's Tale Gilead

by Rhiannon Evans |
Updated on

The internet is going wild about the fact that a controversial drugs company who are manufacturing a covid-19 drug, remdesivir, are called Gilead Sciences.

The Republic of Gilead, Twitter has been very fast – and freaked out – to notice, is also the name of the totalitarian regime in Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale.

Gilead Sciences hit headlines overnight, when it was revealed they’ve sold virtually all of the stocks of remdesvir to the US, meaning there is none for the UK, Europe or the rest of the world.

The drug has been found in trials across the world to help people recover faster from coronavirus. The current supply has been used up. The Trump administration have bought more than 500,000 doses – all of July’s production and 90 per cent of August and September.

The drug is patented by Gilead Sciences, meaning no other wealthy companies are allowed to make it. But, some poorer countries are allowed to. The Guardianhas reported that some UK scientists, like Dr Andrew Hill, senior visiting research fellow at Liverpool University, have said the UK could use something called a compulsory licence to override the intellectual property rights and buy it from generic companies in country like Bangaldesh or India, where the patent is not recognised.

As well as the sale to the US, the company has attracted criticism for its pricing of the drug. The Guardianthis morning said the cost will be US$3,200 for a six-day treatment of remdesvir - the cost of production has been estimated to be less than US$1 per day for a six-day course of treatment.

A New York Times piece on the deal with the US says that Critics have long accused Gilead of overcharging for drugs, including the first hepatitis C cures and Truvada, a daily pill to prevent H.I.V. infection.

Dr Hill, speaking on Sky News this morning, said UK patients had taken place in trials involving the drug, so ‘people in Britain deserve something in return from the United States’.

The CEO of Gilead Sciences, Daniel O’Day, explained their pricing of remdesivir in an open letter, saying: 'In normal circumstances, we would price a medicine according to the value it provides. The first results from the NIAID study in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 showed that remdesivir shortened time to recovery by an average of four days. Taking the example of the United States, earlier hospital discharge would result in hospital savings of approximately $12,000 per patient.

'Even just considering these immediate savings to the healthcare system alone, we can see the potential value that remdesivir provides. This is before we factor in the direct benefit to those patients who may have a shorter stay in the hospital.

'We have decided to price remdesivir well below this value. To ensure broad and equitable access at a time of urgent global need, we have set a price for governments of developed countries of $390 per vial.'

The word Gilead is used several times in the Bible as referring to different people and locations, but in the context of the Handsmaid’s Tale, is believed to refer to the translation, ‘hill of testimony’.

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