Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry is among a bipartisan group of attorneys general calling on the federal government to increase the supply of the drug remdesivir to treat severely ill COVID-19 patients.
“Americans ill from COVID-19 should have options in their medical treatment, and today’s petition will hopefully ensure they can access and afford remdesivir,” Landry said in a statement.
Thirty-four attorneys general have petitioned the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to exercise their federal authority to license remdesivir to third-party manufacturers, which would scale-up production and distribution of the drug, and, they argue, lower its price.
A five-day treatment course costs $3,120, a price tag that has received mixed reviews and that would be higher for those without health insurance.
In their letter, Landry and others argue Gilead, the drug’s manufacturer, is “unable to assure a supply of remdesivir sufficient to alleviate the health and safety needs of the country amid this pandemic.” It alleges the supply for the drug is “dangerously limited” and that its costs will “strain state budgets.”
The Federal Drug Administration approved remdesivir, an antiviral drug, for emergency use in early May, making it a rare drug shown to aid the fight against the pandemic. In Louisiana, some hospital officials in hard-hit regions have told New Orleans Public Radio that their supply of the drug is running short.
A federally funded study showed remdesivir can reduce the length of hospital stays, but it’s not clear how effective it is at reducing mortality.
Landry’s full-throated endorsement of the drug comes after he spent months pushing the use of now-discredited hydroxychloroquine, a favorite of President Donald Trump, as a treatment for COVID-19.
In March, Landry advocated for the use of the drug in Louisiana hospitals after he secured a 400,000-tablet donation from the manufacturer, and before any medical consensus emerged around the drug’s effectiveness. In a press release, his office highlighted that while the supply would support clinic trials, “doctors throughout the State can request the medication to treat patients.”
In a subsequent press release in April, his office praised the drug’s “promising results” and said it “could allow the recoveries of these patients without the use of ventilators.” Landry made TV appearances promoting its use a week after the National Institutes of Health warned that the drug needed further trials to establish whether it worked or was even safe, and after Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the existing data “suggestive at best.”
In June, the FDA revoked the drug’s emergency use authorization amid rising evidence that it provided no benefit to speeding recovering or reducing deaths. On July 1, the FDA warned of severe safety issues, including “reports of serious heart rhythm problems,” “blood and lymph system disorders, kidney injuries, and liver problems and failure.”