WHO-Led Covid Drug Scheme Doubles Down On Antibodies, Steroids And Shuns Remdesivir


A World Health Organization-led scheme to supply COVID-19 drugs to poor countries is betting on experimental monoclonal antibody treatments and steroids but is shunning Gilead’s remdesivir blockbuster therapy, an internal document shows.

The WHO draft document, seen by Reuters and dated Oct. 30, says the priorities are to secure monoclonal antibodies in a tight market and to boost purchases and distribution of cheap steroid dexamethasone, of which it has already booked nearly 3 million courses of treatment for poorer countries.

Monoclonal antibodies are manufactured copies of antibodies created by the body to fight an infection.

The paper, which for the first time outlines how the scheme would spend donors’ money, does not cite remdesivir among priority drugs – a significant omission as the antiviral is the only other medication alongside dexamethasone approved across the world for treating COVID-19.

Gilead Science, the U.S. company that developed remdesivir, said the WHO scheme had not funded its COVID-19 trials and had never approached the firm for the possible inclusion of the drug in its portfolio.

The drug-supply scheme is one of the four pillars of the so-called ACT Accelerator, a WHO-led project which also seeks to secure COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and protective gear for poorer countries by raising more than $38 billion by the beginning of 2022.

“Immediate priorities for the (therapeutics) pillar are intensifying efforts on monoclonal antibodies while scaling up dexamethasone use,” says the WHO document, still subject to changes and expected to be published on Friday or next week.

The drug-supply scheme, co-led by the Wellcome Trust, a charity, and Unitaid, a health partnership hosted by the WHO, urgently needs $6.1 billion, $750 million of which by February, out of a total ask of $7.2 billion.

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More than half the money needed urgently would be used to procure and distribute monoclonal antibodies, the document shows, saying these therapeutics could have a “game-changing” impact but are in short supply.

No drug based on monoclonal antibodies has yet been approved against COVID-19, but the WHO scheme has already invested in research on the new technology and has secured production capacity at a plant of Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies in Denmark.