COVID drug supplies running low, says DOH
MANILA, Philippines — The country’s supply of two experimental drugs used to treat COVID-19 is running out even while hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire on Monday said the supply of COVID-19 drug tocilizumab would run out within a few days unless the government found new suppliers.
She said there was a global shortage of tocilizumab, a repurposed rheumatoid arthritis drug that some clinical trials showed could help critically ill patients survive.
“We have not received reports of overpricing but we are hearing reports that prices (of tocilizumab) have increased so much,” Vergeire said during her daily media briefing on Monday.
“We still have some supply but it is low. It is good up to the first week of September when we checked. Some of our hospitals still have a supply of tocilizumab,” she said.
The Department of Health (DOH) is exploring ways with the help of private hospitals to tap suppliers from other countries.
“Hopefully this will push through so we can acquire additional supplies of tocilizumab,” Vergeire said.
Meanwhile, the country’s supply of another COVID-19 drug, remdesivir, will last only for a few more months.
“Our supply of remdesivir is up to the end of the year,” Vergeire said.
Warning to profiteers
Over the weekend, Vergeire warned those who would violate the maximum suggested retail price (SRP) of tocilizumab of P25,000 per vial.
Cebu City officials have complained that some suppliers were selling tocilizumab for up to P130,000 per 400 mg/20 mL vial.
Vergeire said those found selling the drug beyond the SRP during the pandemic could face imprisonment of one to 10 years and a fine of P5,000 to P1 million.
She said the shortage of tocilizumab was expected to last until the end of the year.
There is no specific medicine that has been recommended to treat or prevent COVID-19.
However, some medicines that have been approved for other health conditions were allowed to be used to treat COVID-19 as part of clinical studies.
A September 2020 clinical trial conducted by Roche unit Genentech showed that patients who received tocilizumab were 44 percent less likely to progress to mechanical ventilation or death compared to patients who received a placebo plus the standard hospital care.
Early findings from another trial in the United Kingdom have suggested that tocilizumab significantly improved outcomes for critically ill patients with severe COVID-19, potentially reducing mortality and time spent in intensive care.
As for remdesivir, the World Health Organization issued on Nov. 20, 2020, a conditional recommendation against its use in hospitalized patients, regardless of disease severity, as it found no evidence that the drug improved survival and other outcomes in these COVID-19 patients.
However, some studies showed that remdesivir, an antiviral drug originally developed to treat hepatitis and later tested against the Ebola virus, shortened the duration of illness for people with high risk of severe infection due to COVID-19.
News handpicked by our editors
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.