US gov­ern­ment does not own any remde­sivir patents, GAO re­port finds

The US fed­er­al gov­ern­ment’s con­tri­bu­tions to re­search on Gilead’s Covid-19 an­tivi­ral drug remde­sivir did not re­sult in any patent rights be­cause the re­search did not cre­ate new in­ven­tions, the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­i­ty Of­fice said in a re­port on Wednes­day af­ter­noon.

The re­port set­tles a long­stand­ing dis­pute over whether the gov­ern­ment might be co-in­ven­tors of remde­sivir, which has lin­gered since be­fore for­mer Cal­i­for­nia at­tor­ney gen­er­al Xavier Be­cer­ra (who’s now Biden’s HHS sec­re­tary) led a group of oth­er AGs last sum­mer in call­ing on the gov­ern­ment to in­ter­vene and low­er the more than $3,000 price tag for remde­sivir be­cause of the gov­ern­ment’s sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to remde­sivir.

The GAO re­port ac­knowl­edges that be­tween 2013 and 2020, the gov­ern­ment pumped $162 mil­lion in­to the de­vel­op­ment of remde­sivir, with the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC), the De­part­ment of De­fense (DOD), and the Na­tion­al In­sti­tutes of Health (NIH) con­duct­ing and fund­ing pre­clin­i­cal re­search. In ad­di­tion, NIH fund­ed three remde­sivir clin­i­cal tri­als, in­clud­ing the one show­ing that the an­tivi­ral short­ened the re­cov­ery time for hos­pi­tal­ized pa­tients with se­vere Covid-19.

Gilead, how­ev­er, al­so con­duct­ed its own re­search that led to the in­ven­tion of remde­sivir and the com­pa­ny said it in­vest­ed $786 mil­lion in remde­sivir R&D from 2000 through De­cem­ber 2020, GAO says. Gilead added in a state­ment that its in­vest­ment in remde­sivir ex­ceed­ed $1 bil­lion in 2020 alone and that cur­rent­ly about half of all hos­pi­tal­ized pa­tients with Covid-19 in the US are treat­ed with the drug.

DOD, NIH and oth­er sci­en­tists at Van­der­bilt and the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na at Chapel Hill ac­knowl­edged to GAO that their sci­en­tists were not co-in­ven­tors of patent­ed remde­sivir dis­cov­er­ies. For in­stance, NIH of­fi­cials told the GAO that Gilead be­gan patent­ing meth­ods of us­ing remde­sivir to treat coro­n­avirus in­fec­tions in 2015, while NIH sci­en­tists be­gan their remde­sivir re­search fo­cus­ing on coro­n­avirus­es in 2016.

“The prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tors of NIH-fund­ed coro­n­avirus re­search projects told us that they did not con­sid­er fil­ing in­ven­tion dis­clo­sures be­cause their re­search did not in­volve mak­ing any mod­i­fi­ca­tions to remde­sivir or its par­ent com­pounds. The prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tors stat­ed that they viewed such mod­i­fi­ca­tions as the thresh­old for fil­ing such dis­clo­sures,” GAO said.

And even if the gov­ern­ment had filed for a remde­sivir method-of-use patent, DOD and NIH of­fi­cials said that would be of low eco­nom­ic val­ue be­cause the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment did not own the com­pound patents and would have had to li­cense those patents from Gilead if it want­ed to com­mer­cial­ize the method of use or li­cense it to an­oth­er com­pa­ny.

Ac­cord­ing to CDC of­fi­cials, as of last month, they said it was “un­like­ly that CDC would con­duct an in­ven­tor­ship analy­sis or pur­sue in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty rights giv­en Gilead’s back­ground in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty and the lim­it­ed po­ten­tial for CDC to li­cense any such rights.”

Chris Morten, a lawyer who cur­rent­ly teach­es at New York Uni­ver­si­ty School of Law, not­ed that the re­port did not clar­i­fy if a CDC sci­en­tist, Michael Lo, co-in­vent­ed Gilead’s remde­sivir com­pound patents, and if so, “CDC would, un­der the de­fault rules of patent law, have a claim to co-own­er­ship. But CDC ap­pears un­in­ter­est­ed in pur­su­ing its le­gal rights.”

Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

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President Joe Biden at the State of the Union address with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

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Bill Haney, Dragonfly CEO (Dave Pedley/Getty Images for SXSW)

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FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on Capitol Hill, Feb. 8, 2023 (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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