Use WTO provisions to bring in Covid-19 drug, urges MP

Covid-19 patients currently have to fork out about RM10,000 to be treated with Remdesivir at government hospitals or RM13,000 at private hospitals. (AFP pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: An opposition MP has urged Putrajaya to make use of provisions under the World Trade Organization (WTO) to get the antiviral drug, Remdesivir, at a lower price to treat Covid-19 patients.

Klang MP Charles Santiago said the current arrangement meant that patients would have to fork out about RM10,000 to be treated with the drug at government hospitals or RM13,000 at private hospitals.

He said this was because Malaysia was importing the original patented version from the US instead of generic types from India and Pakistan.

“Can you imagine if four people in a family contract the virus and they all use Remdesivir? It will cost them RM40,000. That’s very expensive,” Santiago said in a press conference at Parliament today.

“If we can get the generic versions which have the same effectiveness, it would be much cheaper.”

He said Putrajaya could use the “government use” provision under the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement to import the generic versions, adding that Remdesivir was among the most effective medications for Covid-19.

He said Gilead Sciences Inc, the manufacturer of the drug, had already been given a subsidy of about US$70 million by the US government for research and development, adding that the company was set to rake in a profit of US$2.3 billion this year.

“This is too much. We are having a pandemic but the company is making (big) profits. Putrajaya should talk to other governments in Southeast Asia and put a stop to this.”

Santiago also said Putrajaya had previously succeeded in using compulsory licensing to obtain a generic medicine, Sofosbuvir, for the treatment of Hepatitis C, which is also produced by Gilead Sciences.

“Through this, Malaysia has successfully reduced the price of Sofosbuvir from RM324,000 to RM1,248 by buying the generic version,” he said, adding that the government should do the same for Remdesivir and lobby hard to access the drug.

In May, health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah acknowledged that Malaysia had been excluded under voluntary licensing agreements.

He said Malaysia currently had some access to Remdesivir through its participation in the WTO’s solidarity trial.

“If this drug is really effective, perhaps we have to look at other means to access it – not through the voluntary licence but other means,” he said.