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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Becerra Asking US To Step In To Increase Coronavirus Drug Supply, Decrease Cost

 August 5, 2020 at 10:16 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Our top story on midday edition. California's attorney general heavy of is Sarah is calling on the federal government to increase the availability and decrease the price of REM desert veer. It's the only drug given FDA authorization to treat COVID-19, but because of limited supplies, a national institutes of health panel recommends prioritizing the drug for hospitalized patients who require supplemental oxygen, but are not on ventilators. REM deserving is California based manufacturer Gilead sciences priced around of treatment at $3,000. According to news reports, generic versions of the drug are being priced below $100, but are not available in the U S but Sarah and other attorneys general sent a letter to federal agencies, asking them to license out the drug to other producers since it was developed in part with taxpayer dollars. But Sarah spoke to KPBS health reporter, Taran mento hours after he sent the letter, why are you taking this step as part of this coalition? Speaker 2: 01:05 Well, we haven't seen the federal government take the actions that it can. And, uh, for many of us are watching too many of our, our fellow Californians fellow Americans, uh, either pass on or become ill. And when you've got some treatment that has shown some level of success in helping fight off the virus, you gotta do what you can. And when the federal government has the tools in place, the laws that allowed them to, and we haven't seen them do it yet, but we think it's time. And it's a bipartisan letter that is going out from the mid majority of States in this country saying, please take the actions you can under federal law to try to boost the supply and the availability and the affordability of from deciview, which is a medication that has proven fairly successful in helping people combat COVID-19. Speaker 1: 01:53 You know, and I know there's a number of attorneys general that are involved in this, but California doesn't have the best relationship with 'em, you know, the federal government. So I'm curious to know why you believe being one of the leaders of this is going to work. Speaker 2: 02:09 Listen, I, I think we take these issues as they come our way. And we're of the, of the belief that the health and human services department at, uh, in Washington, DC, is going to try to do everything it can to preserve life and, and keep people safe and protected against COVID-19. If that's the case, then we hope they'll look closely at their powers to actually increase the supply of rim desk severe now. And it's a request that's being made, not just by California, uh, ag Landry, Jeff Landry from Louisiana who joined me in co-leading this letter, uh, we were joined by 30, some odd other attorneys general from throughout the country, bipartisan partisanly to make this request because we've got the power. And for many of us in our States, we know that anything that helps us COVID-19, especially at the individual level at the patient level is crucial. Speaker 3: 03:05 Why do you feel the need to take this step? This would be forcing a company to, to do something why not work with the company Speaker 2: 03:14 Because we're living in extraordinary times. Uh, this is not just a, uh, a simple ordinary request, uh, when almost 5 million Americans have now contracted the virus, when more than 150,000 Americans have died as a result of it, uh, extraordinary times do they require extraordinary measures. And we believe that one of those extraordinary, extraordinary measures, which the federal government has the tools to implement is to increase the supply, make a drug more affordable and accessible because taxpayers actually invested in this drug to make it possible. Juliet. The manufacturer of [inaudible] certainly deserves credit for having produced this medication, but without taxpayer support, there's a very strong chance that [inaudible] wouldn't be around or at least wouldn't have been around as long. And so, uh, taxpayers are invested in this drug in more way than one, and we should make sure that if it shows some, uh, positive prospects, uh, for helping people fight off the virus, we should be doing everything possible to make it available. And so far Gilliad has made it very clear. They're only making it very small supply of this, and certainly they're selling it for outrageously high, high prices compared to what it costs them to produce. Speaker 3: 04:31 Have you had conversations with Gilliad, um, about this and if so, what, what have they said? Speaker 2: 04:38 We reached out, um, you know, we always reach out, we reached out to the federal government in the past to talk about COVID-19 and what we're all doing. Uh, the, uh, these are different times and I hope that [inaudible] recognizes that this is not a time for it to hoard a supply or to, to be greedy with what it's got. Um, Scrooge is not, does not have a role to play in solving COVID-19. And so we need people to step forward and we can ask kindly politely, but we also have tools in our legal arsenal to move forward. If we have recalcitrant stakeholders. And I would hope that Juliette would be a willing partner and that they would recognize the value in helping save human life and that they would join along with the federal government to do this. And if the federal government isn't willing to push that along then we hope that the federal government would give States the authority would give us the agency to do what they can do and assign that agency to us so that we in our particular States can take that action. Maybe some States won't ask, but I know some of us will literally, Speaker 3: 05:53 Just before this call, I had reached out to Galiad earlier today. They, they just got back to me for a comment in response to your letter, and they, um, raise a couple of concerns about what they call inaccuracies. They, a couple of them, there's the one I want to read to you is, um, they claim that not all COVID-19 patients should even be treated, um, with does severe because they're not all eligible to be treated for it. Cause they, um, you know, would recover before hospitalization and ever even need it. And then, um, they also say that, um, the w the actions you're calling for wouldn't increase, um, the speed or access to Ramdev severe, um, because it takes six to 12 months to manufacture. Um, and it wouldn't produce additional doses, uh, this year. Speaker 2: 06:37 Does it strike, strike you, uh, uh, strange that I'm very suspicious of what they've just said. Listen, uh, we've been fighting COVID-19 now for five, six months. We've known about it for longer. Uh, we've known for a good portion of that time that prim disappeared has shown some, uh, positive results for people who are trying to fight off COVID-19. Um, Juliet is selling this drug for extremely high prices. They know it's in demand. I guarantee you, if you believe in the capitalist markets, that when there is a major demand, you increase your supply. Now Gil yet could certainly increase it supply. We can bicker about how much it could increase it and how quickly, but I'm not falling for that. They could do much more than what they're doing. And I'm hoping with the federal government do we'll call their bluff and require them to do more, or at least that the federal government than license others, who could produce the medication to make it more available yet doesn't have to make all its profits on the taxpayer's dime and at the expense of the lives of millions of Americans. And we hope that there'll be a good partner here, as I said, but one way or the other it's time in these extraordinary times for us to add in the federal government has tools to act. And if they won't take them, we hope that they'll recognize that there's some of us in, in various States who are prepared to try to take advantage of those tools and work with Gilliad and our federal partners where possible, Speaker 3: 08:26 Thank you very much for your time attorney general Baserra. I really do appreciate it. Thank you very much. The hospital association of San Diego and Imperial counties as it has not seen a shortage in the region, but appreciate any advocacy efforts.

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California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra is calling on the federal government to increase the availability and decrease the price of Remdesivir, the only drug given FDA authorization to treat COVID-19.
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