Gilead says it will charge governments $2,340 and private insurers $3,120 for a 5-day course of remdesivir, a treatment for Covid-19 patients.
This is an outrageous price for a drug that has demonstrated little to no ability to save lives or lower viral loads in patients. The few benefits it supposedly has are supported by trials that can only be described as flimsy. Remdesivir is not even approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, having received only emergency use authorization.
As Peter Maybarduk, Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Director, told the Financial Times, this is “a display of hubris and disregard for the public.”
University of Liverpool Professor Andrew Hill is quoted in the same story saying: “Remdesivir does not have a proven survival benefit and the results have not been consistent between studies. It is not clear why 5 days of treatment should improve clinical responses, but not 10 days of treatment.” Earlier, Hill argued that the drug could be sold for as little as $9.
By now it is no secret that Gilead charges exorbitant prices for its drugs. A curative three-month treatment of the company’s anti-hepatitis C drugs costs $35 in India, $45 in Egypt, and more than $80,000 dollars in the United States.
Gilead has also been criticized for claiming that the high costs of its products reflect the cost of drug discovery and bringing drugs to market. In fact, neither remdesivir nor the anti-hepatitis drugs were discovered by Gilead. Notably, the company also did not pay the full cost of clinical trials resulting in approval or emergency use authorization.
The time for governments to push back on Gilead’s pricing is now. A strong movement for control of pharmaceutical prices already exists in the United States. Little will be lost if Gilead drops the drug altogether, as its benefit is marginal at best and generic manufacturers can easily satisfy whatever demand there may be.
I am not opposed to paying reasonable prices for truly effective drugs that drop viral loads, save lives, and prevent disease progression. But remdesivir isn’t that—not even close.