Covid-19 drugs could be made for $ 1 a day, say academics

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According to academics, existing drugs that could treat coronavirus could be produced and sold at a profit by pharmaceutical companies for $ 1 a day or less.

Andrew Hill of the University of Liverpool and others argue in a new document that current market prices for a range of potential treatments for Covid-19 are much higher than production costs, particularly in the United States.

No treatment has yet been shown to be effective against the new coronavirus, and none has been officially approved by Covid-19 regulators, but some doctors administer it to patients for compassionate purposes.

Remdesivir, an antiviral originally designed by Gilead Sciences for Ebola that is part of several Covid-19 trials, could be mass produced for $ 9 per treatment cycle, according to the Journal of Virus Eradication article.

The document estimates minimum production costs by considering the costs of pharmaceutical ingredients, packaging and other items. On top of that, it assumes that drug manufacturers will make profit margins of 10%.

Dr. Hill, Senior Visiting Researcher in the Department of Translational Medicine in Liverpool, said: “The main treatments evaluated for coronavirus could be mass produced for $ 1 a day or less. “

“At these low prices, anyone in need of coronavirus treatment, in any country, should be able to access the treatment they need,” he noted. “We urgently need global access to effective antiviral treatments for the coronavirus to curb the epidemic for the next 18 months until a vaccine can be produced.”

Gilead disagreed with the study’s findings, saying that they “do not accurately reflect the true cost of manufacturing remdesivir on a large scale.”

Graph comparing the costs of various drugs related to the treatment of coronavirus

He is currently providing all of his current supply of remdesivir for testing, compassionate use and an expanded access program at no cost, he said.

Drug manufacturers say they need high profit margins to compensate for the high risks associated with studying the molecules and bringing them to market. Critics say high prices can prevent universal access to essential medicines.

Most of the drugs currently under study for coronavirus are aimed at stopping replication of the virus or stopping the immune system from overdriving as it attacks disease – a dangerous phenomenon called a cytokine storm.

Another candidate is the sofosbuvir / daclatasvir combination, a hepatitis C treatment partially manufactured with a Gilead molecule. Academics said it was on sale for $ 18,610 per course of treatment in the United States and for $ 6 in Pakistan. They calculate that it would cost $ 5 to produce a medical course – or 39 cents a day.

Hydroxychloroquine, a drug that President Donald Trump has promoted as a treatment despite the lack of evidence, has a list price of $ 19 per course in China and $ 2 per course in India, but could be sold at a profit for only $ 1 per course, depending on the paper.

In the United States, a combination of lopinavir and ritonavir, known as Kaletra, costs $ 503. Academics have instead estimated its cost at $ 4 per course. AbbVie has abandoned global patent protection for the relatively mature drug, paving the way for cheaper generics.

Pirfenidone, a drug from Roche used to treat pulmonary fibrosis that is currently being studied for the new coronavirus, sells for $ 9,606 per course in the United States, but could be sold at a profit for only $ 31, or 1, $ 09 per day.

Editor’s note

The Financial Times makes the coverage of major coronaviruses free to read to help everyone stay informed. Find the latest news here.

Dr. Hill said that manufacturers of generic copies of drugs for which patents had expired had already mass produced drugs to treat HIV / AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and had made profit margins of 10%.

“It is time to repeat these successes for the coronavirus, but this time much more quickly,” he said.

Prices in Europe are generally much lower than in the United States, in part because national health departments can negotiate bulk discounts with manufacturers.

Pressure is already mounting on companies to give up their patents on some of these drugs.

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