Novartis to provide COVID-19 drugs at zero profit

Pharmaceutical giant Novartis has announced that it will provide no-profit medicine to low and middle-income countries. Though these drugs do not treat coronavirus, they do treat the symptoms associated with the virus, and may prove invaluable to many battling the disease.

Novartis Covid-19 medicine

Novartis’s Sandoz division will not make a profit on 15 generic medicines it is making available to developing countries to treat symptoms of Covid-19, the Swiss drugmaker said on Thursday.

Novartis said it would provide medicines ranging from antibiotics and steroids to diarrhea pills to 79 countries on the World Bank’s list of low- and lower-middle income nations.

Novartis to provide no-profit COVID-19 medicine

The Basel-based drugmaker plans to maintain the zero-profit programme until the pandemic ends or a vaccine or cure is found, Novartis Global Health Chief Operating Officer Lutz Hegemann said in an interview.

While Novartis has not seen supply-chain shortages despite increasing demands for Covid-19 medicines, Hegemann said this new programme aimed to help to keep vulnerable healthcare systems in Africa, Asia, South America and European countries Ukraine and Moldova from becoming overloaded.

“We shouldn’t underestimate the stress that Covid puts particularly on fragile health systems,” Hegemann told Reuters, adding Novartis hopes to work with health authorities, faith-based organisations and NGOs to eliminate big markups.

“We are not targeting classical commercial distribution channels, but very direct channels, to influence that to the extent we can,” he said.

Little success in treating COVID-19 

Novartis’s brand-name drugs have had little application in treating the new coronavirus, but Sandoz generics are among medicines commonly used to treat symptoms of those hospitalised.

The list includes antibiotics amoxicillin, ceftriaxone, clarithromycin, vancomycin and levofloxacin, steroids dexamethasone, prednisone and prednisolone, gout treatment colchicine, heart failure drug dobutamine, antifungal fluconazole, blood thinner heparin, anti-diarrhoea drug loperamide, reflux medicine pantoprazole and lung drug salbutamol.

Its malaria generic, hydroxychloroquine, is not included after some Covid-19 trials concluded it did not work and the United States cancelled emergency authorisation, though Novartis continues to provide it for trials and on government requests.

Hegemann did not give specifics on the drugs’ eventual costs, compared to commercial prices. The drugs have been around for decades and are comparatively cheap to make.

US hoards COVID-19 medicine 

While the US hoards COVID drug remdesivir, there is a genuine fear that the rest of the world now has less to buy and treat its own citizen with. Britain and Germany said Wednesday they had sufficient stocks of remdesivir, the first drug to be shown to be relatively effective in treating COVID-19, and of which the United States has bought almost all supply.

Washington announced earlier that it had purchased 92 percent of all remdesivir production by the Gilead laboratory until the end of September — about 500,000 treatments out of nearly 550,000. Each treatment requires 6.25 vials on average.

Read more: US hoards COVID-19 drug, leaving little for rest of the world 

President Donald Trump “has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorized therapeutic for COVID-19,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar as the US death toll hit 127,000 — the world’s highest.

Gilead has set the price at $390 per vial in developed countries, or $2,340 for six vials used over the normal five-day course, though US private insurers will pay $520 per vial.

Novartis to compete with Russian COVID-19 medicine? 

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and the Russian pharmaceutical company ‘KhimRar’ developed Avifavir, which is free to Russians under the country’s national health insurance scheme. The international chemical name of the medication is Favipiravir. It was invented in Japan and ‘KhimRar’ synthesized the new formula.

We foresee a high demand for Avifavir in Russia (and) we also received requests for deliveries of Avifavir from more than ten countries,” the Director of the RDIF, Kirill Dmitriev, explained. “The first results of clinical trials make us believe this drug is one of the most promising in the world.”

Read more: Will Russian anti-coronavirus drug ‘Avifavir’ be effective?

The fund’s website indicates that the medicine “demonstrated high efficiency” during clinical trials. For example, in the first four days of treatment, 65 percent of the 40 patients who took Avifavir tested negative for Covid-19 and, by the tenth day, the number of patients posting negative results increased to 90 percent.

News Desk with additional input from other sources

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