Drug manufacturer Gilead Sciences announced a price for its experimental COVID-19 treatment, remdesivir.
In an open letter, Gilead announced that U.S. patients with private insurance will pay $520 per vial. With the majority of patients expected to receive 6.25 vials for a five-day treatment course, that total comes to $3,120. For patients with government-sponsored insurance in developed countries, the price is reduced to $390 per vial, or $2,340 per treatment.
While remdesivir has shown to improve recovery time in severely ill coronavirus patients, it has not improved mortality.
Analysts predicted a much higher price for the drug, as Gilead has been notorious in the past for price gouging treatments for life-threatening conditions like hepatitis C and HIV. With the announcement of its decision on remdesivir, Gilead maintained its pricing is reasonable.
“Ultimately, we were guided by the need to do things differently,” said Gilead Sciences Chairman and CEO Daniel O’Day in the open letter. “As the world continues to reel from the human, social and economic impact of this pandemic, we believe that pricing remdesivir well below value is the right and responsible thing to do.”
Reception of the announcement has been mixed, and some questions were left unanswered. Despite the letter’s pricing strategy breakdown, it’s still unclear how much of the price will be covered by insurers, or how much the treatment will cost for uninsured patients.
The letter also fails to mention that research and development of remdesivir was largely publicly funded. Consumer advocacy group Public Citizen criticized Gilead’s pricing in a statement, noting public financial support of the drug’s development totals at least $70.5 million through clinical trials and federal grants.
“In an offensive display of hubris and disregard for the public, Gilead has priced at several thousand dollars a drug that should be in the public domain,” said Director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Program Peter Maybarduk in the statement.
According to the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER), a five-day course of remdesivir costs approximately $5 to produce. And because study results showed no reduction in fatalities (although it did reduce recovery time), ICER suggests the cost-effective benchmark price of the drug is $390 — ten times lower than Gilead’s price.
While ICER’s president, Dr. Steven D. Pearson, deemed Gilead’s price reasonably cost-effective in a statement, this is only under the assumption that patients gain a mortality benefit, something that has yet to be shown in data, and only use the product for five days, as opposed to ten.
“The responsible pricing decision today for remdesivir must be reassessed, and the price allowed to move — up or down — based on our future learning about the drug’s effectiveness,” Pearson said in the statement. “If further data do not show a clear mortality benefit for remdesivir, then the price of the drug should be dramatically reduced.”