South Korea has begun the distribution of the stocks of the coronavirus or COVID-19 treatment remdesivir that have been donated by Gilead Sciences Inc and plans to start talks of purchasing more supplies in August, its disease control agency mentioned on Wednesday.

It is the first nation to disclose a timeline for the talks with Gilead. The drugmaker mentioned this week that it has priced remdesivir at $390 per vial in the developed countries and did agree for allocating almost all the supply of the drug to the US in the next three months.

One of the few treatments shown to alter the course of COVID-19, remdesivir is expected to be in high demand. The intravenously administered medicine has won emergency-use authorization in several countries and full approval in Japan after a clinical trial showed it helped shorten hospital stays.

South Korea Planning to Purchase More Supplies of Remdesivir

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Only patients severely ill with COVID-19 are eligible for remdesivir and South Korea currently has 33 such patients, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said. KCDC director Jeong Eun-kyeong told a briefing that patients who developed symptoms in less than 10 days and were suffering from pneumonia and a shortage of oxygen would be considered eligible. A domestic panel of experts has found that anti-viral drugs like remdesivir are more effective if given in the early stages of the disease, she added.

The KCDC did not disclose how many doses have been donated by the U.S. firm. South Korea will consider whether remdesivir should be covered by national health insurance after the purchase negotiations in August, said Jeong. Based on current treatment patterns, a course of remdesivir equates to $2,340 per patient. South Korea has been battling small but steady outbreaks of the new coronavirus, with 51 new cases reported as of Tuesday, bringing the country's total to 12,850 cases with 282 deaths.

(With agency inputs)