Chinese company says it can make Gilead's coronavirus drug

A photo taken on Feb 4, 2020, shows a medical staff member taking samples from a person to be tested for the coronavirus at a quarantine zone in Wuhan. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - A Chinese drugmaker said it has started mass-producing an experimental drug from Gilead Sciences Inc that has the potential to fight the coronavirus, as China accelerates its effort to find a treatment for the widening outbreak.

Suzhou-based BrightGene Bio-Medical Technology Co said in a statement filed to the Shanghai Stock Exchange on Tuesday night (Feb 11) that it has developed the technology to synthesise the active pharmaceutical ingredients of remdesivir, Gilead's drug that is a leading candidate to treat the highly infectious virus that has killed more than 1,000 people.

The drug is not licensed or approved anywhere in the world yet.

BrightGene's stock surged 20 per cent in Tuesday morning trading in Shanghai.

While BrightGene said that it intends to license the drug from Gilead, its move to start manufacturing at this early stage is highly unusual and a potential infringement of the American company's intellectual property.

It comes a week after Chinese researchers filed an application to patent the drug to treat the new coronavirus - officially named by World Health Organisation (WHO) as Covid-19 - a bid that would give China sway over the global use of the therapy to fight the outbreak.

Large areas of China have been paralysed by the coronavirus epidemic, and Gilead's drug is seen as a potential breakthrough after it showed signs of working on infected patients in the US.

Chinese researchers are now testing the drug on 761 patients in clinical trials in Wuhan.

BrightGene said it will have to license the patent from Gilead, conduct clinical trials and procure regulatory approvals before it can sell the drug on the market.

The technology it developed to make remdesivir may not be of much value if the drug fails to produce ideal results from the ongoing clinical trials, or if the epidemic comes under control soon, it said.

Gilead did not immediately respond to a request for comment on BrightGene's announcement.

Last week, the company said it invented remdesivir and has patented it in China, including filing patent applications for use on coronaviruses.

The company also said that it is working with Chinese, US and WHO officials to rapidly determine whether the drug can be used to treat the virus.

BrightGene did not immediately respond to Bloomberg queries on its remdesivir production.

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