KUALA LUMPUR, May 21 — Malaysia will utilise other methods of accessing remdesivir if the experimental medicine by Gilead Sciences is proven effective to treat Covid-19, the Ministry of Health said today.
The US pharmaceutical giant has excluded Malaysia — which is classified by the World Bank as an upper middle-income economy — from receiving remdesivir in recent deals signed with five generic companies in India and Pakistan to manufacture and distribute the experimental antiviral drug to 127 nations, mostly low-income and lower-middle income countries.
Under these non-exclusive voluntary licencing agreements, the five generic companies can set their own prices without paying royalties to Gilead until the World Health Organization (WHO) declares an end to the novel coronavirus public health emergency, or until another medicine or vaccine is approved to treat or prevent Covid-19.
“If really, this drug is effective, perhaps we have to look at other means to access this drug, not voluntary licence, but other means,” Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah told a press conference today, stopping short of saying if Malaysia would use compulsory licencing to obtain remdesivir without patent owner Gilead’s consent.
“Our country has always been excluded under voluntary licence, although we’re a developing country. Hepatitis C, we’re excluded under voluntary licence,” he said, denying Gilead’s claim of previously offering voluntary licencing to Malaysia for its Hepatitis C drug, sofosbuvir.
“That’s the reason why in Hepatitis C, we resort to compulsory licence usage to access the medicine. Now similarly, we have been excluded again under the voluntary licence”.
Dr Noor Hisham added that under the global WHO Solidarity Trial to test potential treatments for the coronavirus, including remdesivir, Malaysia has recruited 12 patients who were given remdesivir.
“We have access to the treatment at the moment.”
Opposition MPs have urged the government to demand an explanation from Gilead on the conditions Malaysia failed for inclusion in the biotech company’s deals for generic versions of remdesivir, saying that Malaysia can’t afford to pay the same drug prices as other countries like Singapore and South Korea that have also been excluded from the agreements.
Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii said Malaysia should get beneficial pricing for remdesivir since Malaysians are risking their lives participating in the WHO clinical trial on the experimental treatment.