EU reaches deals with Roche, Merck for Covid-19 drugs supply

The Commission has reached agreements with pharmaceutical companies Roche and Merck to supply experimental drugs that can be used to treat Covid-19 patients, a commission source told Reuters on Wednesday. The EU executive agreed to supply Roche's RoActemra and Merck's Rebif to any EU members states willing to buy them, the source said, declining to disclose the terms of the deal.

The agreements follow requests from EU states in May to acquire the two drugs which are considered potentially useful against Covid-19. Member States have now to agree with the companies on the supplies needed, the source said.

RoActemra is a drug for rheumatoid arthritis, which has been tested on COVID-19 patients in combination with Gilead’s antiviral remdesivir, the only treatment so far authorised by the European Union for its use against Covid-19. Rebif is used to treat multiple sclerosis patients. It was originally developed by the Swiss biotech firm Serono before Merck bought the company.

Both drugs target proteins in the body associated with inflammation, and there is some hope that they may help severely ill Covid-19 patients suffering from a so-called cytokine storm, a severe immune system reaction that in some cases has led to organ failure of those infected with the new coronavirus. The companies said in letters sent to the EU Commission that they could meet demand from EU countries, the EU source said, declining to name the EU states that expressed interest in the drugs.

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