COVID-19 treatments: Molnupiravir, tocilizumab and remdesivir

Pharmac funds 2 treatments for COVID-19, tocilizumab and remdesivir. We have also agreed to purchase molnupiravir once it is Medsafe approved.

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Tocilizumab

From 1 October 2021, Pharmac will widen funded access to tocilizumab to include the treatment of moderate to severe COVID-19. Studies have shown tocilizumab may help hospitalised COVID-19 patients, reducing severity of the disease, and time in hospital.

Our decision to fund tocilizumab (including access criteria)

This means prescribers can use the standard Special Authority process to apply for funded treatment for COVID-19 , instead of Pharmac’s exceptions decision-making process.

Pharmac has already funded tocilizumab to treat COVID-19 for more than 30 patients through our exceptions decision-making. Most of these patients were a result of the current community outbreak.

We made the decision to widen funded access to tocilizumab after targeted consultation with District Health Boards (DHBs), the Ministry of Health, Medsafe and Roche NZ. We also spoke with rheumatologists who manage currently funded patients on tocilizumab and health care professionals involved in the treatment of COVID-19. 

Medsafe approval status

Tocilizumab is not currently Medsafe approved to treat COVID-19. This means tocilizumab needs to be prescribed and used in accordance with Section 25 of the Medicines Act 1981.

Read about prescribing medicines for unapproved indications – Medsafe website(external link)

We understand tocilizumab for the treatment of COVID-19 received FDA emergency use authorisation in June 2021. The European Medicines Agency is currently assessing this medicine. Roche NZ intends to submit an application to Medsafe in September 2021. 

Before Pharmac decided to fund tocilizumab for COVID-19, Roche NZ advised that they would not be able to supply our contracted supplies of tocilizumab to New Zealand for three months from October.

Supply issue for tocilizumab

There is a global supply shortage of tocilizumab. This global issue is caused by the high demand for tocilizumab to treat COVID-19.

Read the supply issue notice

We have announced a decision to fund upadacitinib, an alternative treatment for patients with rheumatoid arthritis. This provides patients with rheumatoid arthritis an alternative treatment option. It also preserves the remaining stock for people with no alternative treatment options, including those in hospital with COVID-19.

Read the decision to fund upadacitinib for rheumatoid arthritis

Remdesivir

Pharmac has secured additional stock of remdesivir (Veklury) to treat people hospitalised with moderate to severe COVID-19. It is not listed in the Pharmaceutical Schedule but a limited quantity has been available for DHBs to order since late 2020.

Read the latest decision about funded remdesivir

Remdesivir is not currently Medsafe approved to treat COVID-19. This means remdesivir needs to be prescribed and used in accordance with Section 25 of the Medicines Act 1981.

Read about prescribing medicines for unapproved indications – Medsafe website(external link)

DHBs have already treated 17 patients with remdesivir for COVID-19 with Pharmac-funded remdesivir. Most of these patients were a result of the current community outbreak.

Molnupiravir

Pharmac has negotiated an agreement with supplier Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) to purchase the antiviral molnupiravir. It will be used to treat New Zealanders with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms, subject to the treatment gaining regulatory approval in New Zealand by Medsafe.   

Read the full media release about molnupiravir

For people concerned about COVID-19

Your best defence against COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. It’s free.

Book your vaccine today (external link)

Other COVID-19 treatments

Pharmac is actively working to assess, and secure access to, other treatments for COVID-19. We will be guided by our clinical experts on what medicines should be funded.

Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine are not funded for the treatment of COVID-19.

Read more about: 

ivermectin 

hydroxychloroquine