Apr 2, 2020
As the coronavirus outbreak intensified earlier this year, drug maker Gilead Sciences sought and received an “orphan drug” designation for the antiviral drug remdesivir as a potential treatment for COVID-19. The orphan drug status gives a company a seven-year period of market exclusivity, when it alone can sell and profit from a treatment. But drugs only receive such a designation for rare diseases that affect fewer than 200,000 people — a number that was certain to be surpassed as the coronavirus outbreak grew worse. Obviously they knew the population was going to go far higher than that, but they got in under the wire,” says Robert Weissman, president of the consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen. “This drug has benefited from a huge amount of government funding on the research and development side.” After widespread public outrage, Gilead asked the Food and Drug Administration to rescind the orphan drug designation for remdesivir, but Weissman says the episode highlights the Trump administration’s inept response to the crisis, which has consistently privileged corporate profits over the wellbeing of average people.