EU plans faster approval, new joint purchases of COVID-19 drugs

BRUSSELS, May 6 (Reuters) - The European Commission wants to speed up the approval in the European Union of experimental COVID-19 drugs, according to a document released by the EU executive on Thursday, with the aim of having at least three new medicines authorised by October.

The Commission also said it will draw up a portfolio of 10 potential COVID-19 therapeutics and will identify the five most promising ones by June, hoping to launch joint procurements on behalf of EU governments by the end of the year.

The Commission did not clarify on Thursday which drugs it could select for possible supply contracts, but other recent EU documents show that the EU executive has already been in talks with drug makers developing monoclonal antibodies for possible procurement.

The only COVID-19 drug so far approved in the EU, and bought in a joint procurement, is Gilead’s remdesivir, which the World Health Organization has said is not effective on severely ill COVID-19 patients.

“We need a strong push on treatments to limit the need for hospitalisation, speed up recovery times, and reduce mortality,” said Stella Kyriakides, the EU commissioner for health, noting that the new drugs should also help cure “long COVID”, a series of symptoms that affect COVID patients for months after the infection is gone.

The EU executive plans to invest more in clinical trials and research to speed up drugs’ approvals, which are in theory the prerogative of the independent European Medicines Agency (EMA).

EMA has issued scientific advice on 57 COVID-19 therapeutics in development, including small molecules and monoclonal antibodies, antivirals and immunomodulators. Three treatments are currently being assessed under rolling reviews of available data, including Eli Lilly’s antibodies bamlanivimab and etesevimab.

To increase access to drugs, the EU wants to invest more to boost production. It also plans to facilitate partnerships among pharmaceutical companies to quickly address possible bottlenecks in the supply chain. (Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine and Francesco Guarascio; editing by Robin Emmott)