Experts and campaigners have condemned the move which means that other countries across the globe will struggle to obtain supplies of the treatment.
Health officials in the US have announced that the Trump administration has bought almost the entire world’s stock of the Covid-19 drug remdesivir.
According to the country’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) , “this represents 100 per cent of Gilead’s (the company that exclusively manufactures the drug) projected production for July”.
But what is remdesivir, how does it work in treating Covid-19 and is it available to patients in the UK?
What is remdesivir?
Remdesivir is an experimental antiviral drug first created and developed by the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences in 2009.
It was originally created to treat hepatitis C but proved ineffective. Since then, it has been used to treat Ebola but didn’t work well against that disease either.
Despite this, remdesivir later showed promise in fighting SARS and MERS – illnesses caused by coronaviruses – in animal studies, which is why researchers thought remdesivir might help fight the new coronvirus.
Remdesivir is only one of two drugs approved by health authorities in the UK to treat Covid-19, the other being dexamethasone.
The cost is around $3,200 (£2,500) per treatment of six doses, according to the US government statement.
How does remdesivir treat Covid-19?
Remdesivir is designed to block some viruses – including the new coronavirus – from duplicating themselves and therefore overwhelming the host’s immune system.
The drug works differently to other antibody-based treatments or vaccines, which are designed to help a person’s immune system identify and eliminate pathogens.
Despite its ability to shorten the recovery times (by around four days) of some coronavirus patients, remdesivir has not been found to significantly improve an individual’s chances of surviving the disease.
The drug is administered intravenously and is most effective when it is given to a patient early.
Is remdesivir available to all Covid-19 patients in the UK?
After being approved for use in the UK at the end of May, health officials announced that remdesivir will be available to “selected NHS patients” only.
“The drug will be used in adults and adolescents hospitalised with severe Covid-19 infection who meet clinical criteria suggesting they have the greatest likelihood of benefiting,” the department of health said in a statement.
This means that remdesirvir will only be available to the most sick patients.
The decision by the US on Tuesday to stockpile remdesivir could make it more difficult for hospitals in the UK to procure the drug.
“They’ve got access to most of the drug supply [of remdesivir], so there’s nothing for Europe,” said Dr Andrew Hill, senior visiting research fellow at Liverpool University.