By Anna Wilde Mathews and Jonathan D. Rockoff 

Gilead Sciences Inc. has ramped up production of its experimental coronavirus drug, which has seen overwhelming demand amid a surge in cases around the world.

The drugmaker said Saturday that it now has 1.5 million individual doses of its drug remdesivir on hand, an amount that could be enough to supply more than 140,000 patients.

Gilead, which won't charge for the supply, is making the drug available through clinical trials and special programs that allow doctors and hospitals to apply for access. The company said it wouldn't charge for the 1.5 million doses even if remdesivir is approved to treat Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

The increased supply will help the Foster City, Calif.-based company satisfy more of the demand from researchers testing the drug, as well as from patients, doctors and hospitals desperate for treatments.

"Providing our existing supplies at no charge is the right thing to do, to facilitate access to patients as quickly as possible and in recognition of the public emergency posed by this pandemic," Gilead Chief Executive Daniel O'Day said in a letter posted on the company's website.

By October, Gilead aims to produce enough doses of the drug to provide treatments to more than 500,000 patients, and the company said it hopes to have enough doses for another 500,000 patients by the end of 2020.

No drug has been proven to work against Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, and none has been approved for such a use. The lack of proven treatments has prompted patients to try antimalaria drugs and other drugs suspected of helping derail the virus.

Drugmakers typically make an amount of an experimental drug that is just enough to supply researchers testing the agent. As requests from Covid-19 patients surged, however, Gilead ratcheted up production.

Mr. O'Day said the company had taken several steps to accelerate manufacturing, including repurposing some company plants that made other drugs to focus on producing remdesivir. The company was able to shorten the time needed to make the drug from about a year to six months, he said.

Gilead, a longtime maker of antivirus drugs, developed remdesivir to treat Ebola, but it proved less effective than some other medicines.

While researchers study remdesivir's safety and effectiveness, Gilead has been providing remdesivir to individual patients, since many aren't able to enroll in clinical trials that are testing the drug. But the company has struggled to keep up with all of the requests.

To improve access, the company said last week, it would have doctors and hospitals make requests for groups of patients needing emergency use of the drug. Gilead said it would consider only individual requests for pregnant women and children.

The company said it has now supplied remdesivir to more than 1,700 patients under its initial program and the revamped program announced last week.

Write to Anna Wilde Mathews at anna.mathews@wsj.com and Jonathan D. Rockoff at Jonathan.Rockoff@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 04, 2020 21:35 ET (01:35 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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