The costs of COVID-19 drugs will continue to rise.

I read an article a few days ago about the pricing for the drug Remdesivir. This drug is effective with COVID-19 patients with moderate symptoms. Patients have a 65% likelihood of improvement with this drug and they leave the hospital earlier compared to not taking the drug.

The United States health care system calculates that a COVID-19 patient costs $12,000 for every four days a patient does not remain in the hospital. Remdesivir has a history of patients taking this drug for COVID-19 to leave the hospital four days earlier than not taking it.

Gilead Sciences is the producer of Remdesivir. They want to charge insurance companies $3,120 for a five-day treatment for COVID-19 patients in the United States. The cost would be $2,340 for the five-day course for selected countries around the world.

Does it make sense to get a patient out of the hospital four days earlier with Remdesivir and not spend $12,000 to keep that patient, but spend $3,120 for the drug that provides that four-day early release? After all, the hospital (insurance company) saved $8,880.

Our Congress has suggested that the drug be made available for as little as $1/dose. It is felt that Gilead Sciences is using the pandemic to boost its price. The federal government provided $70 million for the early research and clinical trials for Gilead Sciences. Now is the time to recoup some of the money the taxpayers have already invested in Gilead Sciences.

Drug industry critics and the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review tell us that Gilead Sciences’ price is fair because of the value it delivers to the COVID-19 patient – higher survival rate, earlier release from the hospital, and making ICU beds more available for other COVID-19 patients.

A new drug would take more than a couple of billion dollars and take at least ten years to be approved by the FDA for COVID-19. The $70 million dollars represents about 3% of the investment a pharmaceutical company would have to spend to fully develop a drug like Remdesivir. And only one in eight drugs achieve FDA approval.

Remdesivir has been around for a while. It is approved by the FDA. It was originally developed to treat Ebola. It failed in that goal but was more effective in treating SARS and MERS (two coronaviruses). Remdesivir blocks COVID-19 from replicating.

There are several forces at work here. One is the price of the drug. Another is the value that the drug has for the patient. Still, another is the economic gain for hospitals and insurance companies. However, the unknown is the future development of new drugs. If the government can set prices in a pandemic for the greater good, what is the real risk to any pharmaceutical company to continue to develop newer drugs?

Yes, the risk is expensive. Is government price-setting more expensive in the long run? I do not know. We live in a capitalistic society and capitalism is rewarded by higher earnings. These additional dollars fund the next rounds of research and drugs that can save lives whether we live through another pandemic or not?

Maybe there can be a compromise between the $1/dose and the $3,120 five-day treatment? Could the drug be used in the short term (less than six months) to assist hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients allowing faster access to ICU beds?

If so, whether it was free, $1/dose, or $1,000/treatment, Gilead Sciences gains name recognition, good publicity, goodwill, and a return to its original price in the short term. COVID-19 is not going away in the next several years. Remdesivir and other drugs like it will be used to treat COVID-19 patients.

Live Longer & Enjoy Life! – Red O’Laughlin –


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