How did Europeans come to pay through the nose for a COVID-19 drug whose effectiveness has not been proven?

This is the story of Remdesivir, an experimental antiviral that takes centre stage in the first part of a cross-border investigation into European spending on coronavirus drugs.

Produced by US biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, Remdesivir was initially developed with plentiful public funds to combat Ebola. In July 2020, the European Medicines Agency gave it “conditional authorisation” as the first antiviral to be used against COVID-19.

In October, the European Commission signed a contract with Gilead Sciences without negotiating the price, which the company set at €2,070 per treatment of six doses. Only a week later, the World Health Organisation published the largest study carried out so far on the drug, which showed its ineffectiveness in reducing both hospitalisation and mortality in COVID-19 patients.

Sources reveal that authorities in many member states came under pressure to buy the drug amid a “phantom shortage” that disappeared as soon as the ink on the EU deal was signed.

The investigation sought data on the number of doses purchased from authorities in all EU member states plus 10 on the fringes of the EU. As of the start of December, it had collected data for 17 countries, which together spent at least at least €226 million on Remdesivir — on top of €70 million already spent by the European Union on 30,000 doses.

The “Behind the Pledge” project shows that major buyers are not the EU’s richest countries. France, for example, did not purchase a single phial. Portugal and Bulgaria bought more doses per head of population than economic powerhouse Germany.

Watch this space as the investigation into EU COVID-19 spending continues…

(Infographic: Le Monde)

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