Gilead Sciences, the biopharmaceutical company that has been donating the ebola drug remdesivir to the U.S. Government for use in treatment against COVID-19 since May, announced on Monday that the company would begin charging for the drug in July. According to CNBC, remdesivir will be sold at a cost of $390 per vial to the governments of “developed countries” around the world, and $520 per vial for U.S. private insurance companies, charging a lower price for government programs like Medicare and a higher price for private insurers. A typical round of treatment with the drug will cost commercial health insurance companies $3,120 over five days.
How much of that expense gets transferred over to patients will be at the discretion of the companies and the policies of each individual patient. Some patients may not see costs, though patients with high deductibles could face the full expense. During a conference call with reporters, a senior official in the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed that uninsured individuals will be covered under provisions of the CARES Act.
According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, while not a cure, the use of remdesivir in treatment for the coronavirus has resulted in faster recovery time for COVID-19 patients, with patients generally recovering four days faster than those who didn’t take the drug. CNBC reports that the use of the drug in hospital recovery will save hospitals about $12,000 per patient due to early hospital discharge. Gilead predicts that the typical treatment will require five days and six vials of remdesivir at a cost of $3,120 to insurers in the U.S. but treatments can extend to ten-days which would require 11 vials at $5,720.
Speaking with Meg Tirrell on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day assured people that access to the drug would be plentiful “Whether you’re covered by a private insurer, whether you’re covered by a government insurer, whether you’re uninsured with COVID-19, there will not be an issue for access with remdesivir.”
Many people on Twitter didn’t share O’Day’s sunny outlook, with critics pointing out that the drug’s price could hit people hard during a pandemic, especially considering a more promising and much cheaper drug, dexamethasone, costs about $6 per day and is showing to be a major breakthrough in the treatment of COVID-19.
This is an outrage. Gilead is pricing its COVID drug remdesivir at $3,120 for patients w/ insurance.
That's *10 times higher* than the suggested benchmark price.
US taxpayers have paid *at least* $70 million to develop this drug.
This is deeply immoral.https://t.co/I6elzc98of
— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) June 29, 2020
Gilead Sciences charging $2,340 for a 5-day course of Remdesivir that maybe reduces time to recovery, doesn’t improve survival, and is likely inferior to the much cheaper dexamethasone for ventilated patients reveals Big Pharma’s greed and opportunism during this pandemic.
— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) June 29, 2020
It’s important to note that remdesivir was produced from taxpayer funding (over $70 million) just like their HIV drugs Truvada ($2,000/bottle) and Biktarvy ($3,390/bottle). Gilead’s greed continues to cost lives. https://t.co/tmVj7qG5Xk
— Jason Rosenberg (@mynameisjro) June 29, 2020
According to the BBC, dexamethasone, a drug that is already widely in use in the reduction of inflammation for arthritis, asthma, and certain skin conditions, is currently undergoing the world’s biggest trial testing existing treatments against the coronavirus, and has shown a lot of promise in its ability to prevent an overreaction of the immune response, which can result in a deadly cytokine storm. The use of dexamethasone has been shown to cut the risk of death from 40% to 28% for patients needing the aid of a ventilator and from 25% to 20% in those needing oxygen. In the U.S., the CDC reports that the current coronavirus hospitalization rate is about 98 people per 100,000 diagnosed.