The European Commission said on Wednesday it had agreed with U.S. company Gilead to buy additional doses to treat about 3,400 patients of its COVID-19 drug Remdesivir, amid shortages of the medication in Europe.
The move comes as the bloc is under pressure to expand its limited stocks of the antiviral drug as COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations rise on the continent.
Several European countries have said they were experiencing shortages of the drug, whose global stock has been secured almost entirely by the United States
A spokesman for the EU executive said Brussels agreed with Gilead last Friday to supply nearly 20,300 additional doses "which help almost 3,400 patients" at a cost of 7 million euros ($8.24 million).
That is in addition to 30,000 courses of treatment it bought at the end of July and that were meant to cover Europe's needs in the months of August and September, when infections were at their lowest in Europe.
The additional supply could be enough to meet immediate needs for a week or two.
Spain, the country with the highest number of infections in Europe, had nearly 10,700 people hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Tuesday. In France, nearly 800 COVID-19 patients were in need of intensive care only in the last week of September.
Remdesivir is usually administered in Europe to severely ill patients. This week it has been given also to U.S. President Donald Trump after he tested positive for the virus.
Remdesivir and steroid dexamethasone are to date the only authorized drugs to treat COVID-19 in Europe.
NEW SUPPLY SOUGHT
The EU and Britain, with a combined population of 500 million, are negotiating a new contract with Gilead for the supply of additional doses of the antiviral medicine, the EU spokesman said.
European officials said an agreement could be reached shortly.
Gilead Chief Commercial Officer Johanna Mercier said on Tuesday the company expected by next week to be in a position to fulfill orders coming through Europe.
The additional doses acquired last week were being delivered to countries which needed it the most, the EU spokesman said, citing The Netherlands, Czech Republic, Greece, Austria, Denmark and Slovenia.
In the Netherlands, physicians were giving priority in administering the drug to the most ill patients, the Dutch health inspectorate said. Hospitals there were also redistributing Remdesivir where it was most needed within the country.