7 Nov 2021

Covid-19: Pharmac confident with growing stock of drugs to treat virus

6:33 am on 7 November 2021

Pharmac is growing increasingly confident it is getting close to having enough of the drugs needed to treat Covid-19.

A vial of Remdesivir

Remdesivir was thought to be of little benefit in treating Covid-19, but a US study has shown it to be incredibly effective. Photo: AFP

Last year, the government made $150 million available to the drug buying agency to meet drug shortages caused by Covid-19, and to invest in medication to treat the virus.

Yesterday, Pharmac added Baricitinib to an ever growing arsenal of anti-virals and drugs that suppressed the inflammatory response in infected people who became very sick.

Pharmac chief executive Sarah Fitt said they were having to adjust their approach in order to secure these drugs.

"With a normal funding process, you would wait and you'd have all the clinical trials and all the evidence but the problem is the supply is so short, with a lot of these we've had to move within a matter of days in order to ensure that we can get our allocation."

These drugs would reduce the need for so many patients to be placed on ventilators, Fitt said.

Meanwhile, a study has found a drug once thought to be of little benefit in treating Covid-19, was actually incredibly effective.

Remdesivir, once used by former US president Donald Trump, was given low marks by a panel of World Health Organisation experts last year.

Otago University biochemist professor Kurt Krause said the problem was they were using the drug on the very ill.

A recent US study showed if it was deployed in the early stages of infection, it was in fact very effective, he said.

"They were monitored to find out okay, do they end up in the hospital or do they end up dying? And in this case, if they got three days of remdesivir, within a week of being diagnosed, the hospitalisation and death decreased by 90 percent. So it was quite a dramatic result."

Prof Krause said this was good news for New Zealand which already had large stocks of the drug.

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