Gilead Sciences (GILD 1.06%) has made remdesivir, its Ebola-turned-COVID-19 drug, available to more than 1,700 patients through compassionate-use and expanded-access programs, according to an update from Gilead's chairman and CEO, Daniel O'Day, that was posted on the company's website on Saturday.

The number of COVID-19 patients treated with remdesivir is likely to go higher. On Friday, EU regulators recommended expanding access to remdesivir for patients who are unable to partake in one of the nine clinical trials testing remdesivir that are ongoing or in the process of being set up.

Because remdesivir isn't approved to treat any disease -- it was never approved to treat Ebola given the lackluster clinical trial results and the waning Ebola virus outbreak -- there wasn't a warehouse full of the drug nor a manufacturing plant set up for large-scale production.

Patient and her doctors in a restricted area

Image source: Getty Images.

Fortunately, Gilead recognized the potential for remdesivir to treat COVID-19 early and increased production at risk. O'Day noted: "Then, as now, there were many unknowns including how long the outbreak would last, at what scale, and whether remdesivir is a safe and effective treatment for COVID-19. We made the decision to invest and scale up regardless, because if remdesivir was going to be needed for patients, we had to be ready."

Through improved production times and increasing manufacturing at external partners, Gilead has been able to manufacture 1.5 million doses, which should be able to treat over 140,000 patients depending on the optimal dose, which is still being determined.

Longer term, Gilead is looking to have enough drug to treat more than 500,000 patients by October and more than 1 million treatment courses by the end of this year.