Potential COVID-19 treatments touted by Trump go into short supply

March 23, 2020

Gilead Sciences has halted its emergency access program for remdesivir, which has been touted as a potentially effective coronavirus treatment, amid surging demand.

After announcing that several clinical trials are being launched to study the effectiveness of remdesivir on coronavirus patients, Gilead said it became flooded with requests for the drug from around the world.

Remdesivir was developed to treat a number of potential viruses including Ebola. Gilead says that the emergency access program it set up for the drug was designed for very limited access — not a global pandemic. Given the overwhelming demand, the company said it is now limiting access to coronavirus patients who are pregnant or under 18 and have severe symptoms. 

Rising demand for remdesivir has been partially fueled by remarks by President Trump, who has promoted the drug as a potentially useful treatment against coronavirus. Hopeful comments made by Trump over the weekend about two other antivirals — chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine — are also creating a demand crisis. 

On Saturday, Trump tweeted that the combination of hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic called azithromycin could be “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine,” based on a small study in France showing the duo can help coronavirus patients recover.

Now reports have emerged from countries across Africa that sudden panic-buying of hydroxychloroquine, which is also an anti-malaria drug, are depleting stocks. 

In the U.S., hospital requests for chloroquine reportedly increased by 3,000 percent in the first few weeks of March, creating short falls for patients who take the medication for other prominent conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Now, several states are putting measures in place to restrict the distribution of azithromycin and hydroxychloroquine before the drugs plunge further into short supply.