By Hiroyuki Harada, Life Style and Medical News Department
The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare will distribute remdesivir, the first candidate drug in Japan that aims to treat the new coronavirus, free of charge for a certain period of time after it is approved. During this period, the drug will not be covered by national health insurance. The drug’s manufacturer will provide the medication, and the ministry will oversee its distribution. Supply of the drug may fall short of demand, so the MHLW hopes to control distribution to make sure that the hospitals caring for critically ill patients receive it.
Remdesivir was originally developed by the U.S. drug manufacturer Gilead Sciences as a remedy for Ebola virus disease. The drug is in the spotlight now for possibly being effective in treating the new coronavirus. Currently, a clinical trial is underway involving participants across the globe, including those at Japan’s National Center for Global Health and Medicine.
To speed up the introduction of remdisivir, the MHLW plans to grant it “special approval,” a type of approval used for drugs that have already been approved overseas. The new medication may go into use as early as May. Gilead Sciences has announced that it will distribute remdesivir globally for free to treat approximately 140,000 patients (about 1.5 million dosages) by year-end. The number is calculated based on the regimen of 10 doses per person. The company has not disclosed the amount to be delivered to each country, but Japan’s allotment is expected to be small.
According to people familiar with the issue, Gilead will likely refrain from applying for public health insurance while distributing the drug for free. The MHLW will be involved in the distribution of the medication to ensure proper distribution of the limited medicine to gravely ill patients.