Remdesivir, broad-spectrum antiviral medication has been cleared to treat Covid-19. It was developed to treat Ebola, and Gilead has licensed companies to produce generic versions in 127 low- and middle-income countries. Recent research has suggested remdesivir can reduce Covid-19 deaths by up to 30%. It also reduces intensive care stays from 15 days to 11, on average.
Around 30,000 doses of a generic version of remdesivir are being manufactured by Cipla under license from Gilead Sciences of the US. SA licensee Cipla confirmed that the batch would be ready by the end of the month and is expected to save the lives of more than 13,000 Covid-19 patients by the end of the year. Each vial costs R940 and the course usually uses about six vials.
A study involving scientists from the universities of Wits, Cape Town and Stellenbosch has estimated this could increase the number of patient’s intensive care units (ICUs) can handle by more than 50%. They said the drug could prevent the deaths of 13,674 South Africans by December.
The peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, said the increased capacity could save up to 6,862 lives as cases peak. “There are many countries with limited ICU capacity that could benefit from this double impact on mortality,” said Brooke Nichols, the study’s lead author from the health economics and epidemiology research office at Wits.
SA has about 3,450 ICU beds for coronavirus patients, and capacity is expected to run out in some provinces for months at a time as the coronavirus spreads. “Without remdesivir, it is expected that 23,416 to 31,269 people will occupy an ICU bed during peak months when ICU capacity is expected to be breached,” the study said.
Nichols said many countries with limited ICU capacity could benefit from the drug’s double impact on mortality. “With remdesivir, that number is expected to grow to 36,291 to 47,827 patients treated in ICU by December 2020.By giving remdesivir to all patients in ICU during peak months, 3,295 to 6,814 deaths will be averted, assuming an 85% death rate among those not receiving ICU care but who require this care,” she added.
She noted that she was worried the US had bought up Gilead’s remdesivir supply, especially if it did not ensure that areas overwhelmed by Covid-19 were not prioritized.”Because more lives can be saved per person treated when using remdesivir in places where ICU resources are breached, using remdesivir when ICU resources are not breached would be a misallocation of scarce resources,” concludes Nicholas.