EU plans faster approval, new joint purchases of COVID-19 drugs

The only COVID-19 drug so far approved in the EU is Gilead's remdesivir

  
A pharmacist doctor works on the basics of the raw materials for investigational of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment drug "Remdesivir", in Ibn Sina laboratory, at Eva Pharma Facility in Cairo, Egypt June 25, 2020. Image for illustrative purposes.

A pharmacist doctor works on the basics of the raw materials for investigational of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment drug "Remdesivir", in Ibn Sina laboratory, at Eva Pharma Facility in Cairo, Egypt June 25, 2020. Image for illustrative purposes.

REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

BRUSSELS - The European Commission wants to speed up EU approval of experimental COVID-19 drugs, according to a document released by the EU executive on Thursday, with the aim of having at least three new medicines authorised by October.

The Commission also said it would draw up a portfolio of 10 potential COVID-19 therapeutics and will identify the five most promising ones by June, hoping to launch joint procurements on behalf of EU governments by the end of the year.

The Commission did not clarify in the documents released on Thursday which drugs it could select for possible supply contracts, but other recent EU documents show that the EU executive has already been in talks with drug makers developing monoclonal antibodies for possible procurement.

The only COVID-19 drug so far approved in the EU is Gilead's remdesivir, which the EU bought with a joint procurement just before the World Health Organization said it was not effective on severely ill COVID-19 patients.

Stella Kyriakides, the EU commissioner for health, said the new drugs should also help cure "long COVID", a series of symptoms that affect COVID patients for months after the infection has gone.

The EU executive plans to invest more in clinical trials and research to speed up drug approvals, which are in theory the prerogative of the independent European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The EMA has issued scientific advice on 57 COVID-19 therapeutics in development, including small molecules and monoclonal antibodies, antivirals and immunomodulators.

Three treatments are currently being assessed under rolling reviews of available data, including Eli Lilly's antibodies bamlanivimab and etesevimab, and a combination of antibodies being developed by Regeneron and Roche.

Kyriakides told a news conference that a contract was being signed with Roche on monoclonal antibodies for the possible supply of nearly 40 European countries, including Britain.

To increase access to drugs, the EU wants to invest more to boost production. It also plans to facilitate partnerships among pharmaceutical companies to quickly address possible bottlenecks in the supply chain.

(Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine and Francesco Guarascio; editing by Robin Emmott and Nick Macfie) ((Francesco.guarascio@thomsonreuters.com;))

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