Existing drugs can help us overcome the coronavirus pandemic while we wait for a vaccine, but the high prices charged by pharmaceutical companies will likely mean that, even if these drugs prove to be effective, many patients will still be prevented from receiving a vaccine. treatment.
A study published this month in the Journal of Virus Eradication looked at nine of the drugs that have been identified as possible Covid-19 treatments and are in various stages of clinical trials around the world. The research team examined how much each drug is sold in the countries where data were available. They then calculated the cost of a generic version of these drugs.
For example, a course of sofosbuvir (a drug currently used to treat hepatitis C) costs about $ 5, but the current price in the United States is $ 18,610.
Pirfenidone, a drug used for pulmonary fibrosis, costs about $ 31 for a 28-day course of treatment. In the United States, a course costs $ 9,606, or $ 6,513 if patients can access it through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Although the United States tops the list, the list price for this drug is still expensive elsewhere – a course costs $ 2,561 in the United Kingdom and $ 2,344 in France.
Pharmaceutical companies often defend their prices by claiming that their costs are incredibly high. However, when calculating the price of a generic version of the drug, the researchers took into account export costs, taxes and even a 10% profit margin.
In some cases, pharmaceutical companies have minimized their costs by receiving government grants. Take Remdesivir, a drug that has been touted by the United States’ foremost infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a tempered statement later in the British Medical Journal, where researchers expressed the need for caution regarding the effectiveness of the drug.
Gilead Sciences, the company that makes remdesivir, has received at least $ 79 million in funding from the United States government. Despite the fact that American taxpayers contributed to the development of the drug, Gilead announced that it would no longer provide emergency access. Then, after much criticism, the company announced this week that it would donate all of its drug supplies to the government.
In late March, the Food and Drug Administration granted Gilead “orphan” drug status, which means that the company has the right to profit exclusively from the sale of remdesivir for seven years. Normally, this drug status is reserved for the treatment of rare diseases, not those like Covid-19, for which more than a million people in the United States have tested positive (and many others have been infected but not tested). ).
Gilead, who made $ 5 billion in profits last year, has close ties to the United States administration. Between 2011 and 2017, Joe Grogan lobbied for Gilead. He is now part of the White House Coronavirus working group.
Speaking on the phone after a shift in a London hospital, one of the study’s authors, Dr. Jacob Levi, said: “There is a long history of large pharmaceutical companies charging unnecessary high prices and unjustified for drugs, even though they actually spent very little on research and development for this drug. ”
Levi added, “This has been extremely common with drugs for infectious diseases in the past, such as hepatitis and HIV, and we can’t let that happen with the drugs for Covid-19. Otherwise, hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths will occur and inequality in health care among the poor will worsen. “