European Hospitals Receiving Free Generic Medicines To Treat COVID-19 - Association

GENOA (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 26th May, 2020) ENOA, Italy, May 26 (Sputnik), Anastasia Levchenko - Adrian van den Hoven, the director general of the Medicines for Europe association, told Sputnik that many of the medicines that are being used to treat COVID-19 are generic, meaning that they are an exact copy of another treatment whose patent has expired, and the alliance has donated them to hospitals in Europe for free to perform clinical trials.

Medicines for Europe is the alliance representing the generic and biosimilar pharmaceutical industries across the continent. Biosimilar treatments differ as they are an almost-identical copy of a treatment that is still in patent. Both kinds of drugs have cost and accessibility benefits, and close to 70 percent of drugs in Europe are either generic or biosimilar. Van den Hoven explained that some generic medicines were used in clinical trials against COVID-19, including hydroxychloroquine, which is a medicine for malaria and certain rheumatoid conditions, and lopinavir-ritonavir, a combination drug for HIV.

"We do not know if [these medicines] are effective, we do not know if they work, but there are some generic medicines that are tested in clinical trials ... Most of those medicines have been donated for free by our members to hospitals, so they could do those clinical trials and test them. We are watching very carefully to see which medicines will work. And then when we know, we will start increasing the production of those. For the time being, we have been careful to make those donations for free to hospitals, but also to ensure that patients who need those medicines for the other diseases also get them," van den Hoven said.

Though the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine for treating COVID-19 has not been proven, many countries, including the United States, used it to treat coronavirus patients.

Van den Hoven explained that hydroxychloroquine is also used for patients with the autoimmune disease lupus, and they faced shortages during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The same refers to HIV patients, and pharmaceutical companies have had to ensure that they can supply the needs of their traditional patients.

In general, producers of generic and biosimilar medicines in Europe have played a crucial role during the pandemic, not only because they maintained access to drugs for patients and hospitals, but also because they prevented governments from going bankrupt, van den Hoven argued.

"One of the advantages is that given that these medicines are very inexpensive, it has not been difficult for governments to pay to buy a lot of them. So, it has not bankrupted the governments to buy these medicines in large quantities, whereas if they had been very expensive, patent-protected medicines, there would have been budgetary problems. But clearly, there were none affecting the purchase of our medicines," the association chief stated.

On Monday, the World Health Organization announced that it had stopped an experimental study into the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 amid concerns over the drug's safety.

Human rights groups across the world have also warned that health care systems must ensure that HIV patients can continue to receive treatment amid medicine shortages and increased pressure on these networks due to the ongoing epidemiological crisis.