BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission has struck deals with drugmakers Roche (ROG.S) and Merck KGaA (MRCG.DE) to secure supplies of experimental treatments for COVID-19, a Commission source told Reuters on Wednesday.
The deals cover Roche’s arthritis medicine RoActemra and Merck’s multiple sclerosis drug Rebif – both seen as potential treatments for COVID-19 – and will secure supplies to any of the 27 EU member states willing to buy them, the source said.
The source, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic, did not disclose the terms of the deals. Roche, Merck and a Commission spokeswoman were not immediately available for comment.
The deals follow requests from EU states in May to acquire the two drugs and come as governments around the world jostle for access to potential therapies and vaccines against COVID-19, even before their efficacy is proven.
Roche is doing a late-stage, 330-patient trial of Actemra, known as RoActemra in some markets, in COVID-19 patents after the anti-inflammatory drug used against rheumatoid arthritis was deployed in China in patients suffering from a severe immune system reaction.
The medicine has also been tested on COVID-19 patients in combination with Gilead’s (GILD.O) antiviral remdesivir, the only drug so far authorised by the EU for use against COVID-19.
In early June, an Italian trial of Actemra in patients with early-stage COVID-19 showed it failed to help them.
Rebif was developed by Swiss biotech firm Serono before Merck bought the company.
Both drugs target proteins in the body associated with inflammation, and there is some hope they may help severely ill COVID-19 patients suffering from a so-called cytokine storm, an immune system reaction that in can lead to organ failure.
The companies said in letters to the Commission that they could meet demand from EU countries, the source said, declining to name the EU states that had expressed interest in the drugs.
EU countries will now have to agree with the companies on the supplies needed, the source added.
Brussels is also in talks with Gilead to obtain doses of remdesivir for member states and boost its production capacity. It also wants to reserve supplies of vaccines being developed by Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) and Sanofi (SASY.PA).
In June, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands said they had secured 400 million doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine developed by Britain’s AstraZeneca (AZN.L).
Concerns over remdesivir’s availability were ignited after Gilead pledged almost all its output to the United States.
Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; additional reporting by John Miller in Zurich and Patricia Weiss in Frankfurt; Editing by Josephine Mason and Mark Potter