The Trump administration took drastic action this week to combat a possible second wave of coronavirus infections across the United States, buying up nearly the entire global supply of a new coronavirus treatment.
The Trump administration secured more than 500,000 treatment courses of remdesivir, an antiviral drug manufactured by Gilead Sciences. The Telegraph reported that the massive buy represented the company’s entire production for the month of July and 90% of the company’s production output for August and September.
“President Trump has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorized therapeutic for COVID-19,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “To the extent possible, we want to ensure that any American patient who needs remdesivir can get it. The Trump Administration is doing everything in our power to learn more about life-saving therapeutics for COVID-19 and secure access to these options for the American people.”
As reported by Reuters, remdesivir “is expected to be in high demand as one of the only treatments so far shown to alter the course of COVID-19.”
“After the intravenously administered medicine helped shorten hospital recovery times in a clinical trial, it won emergency use authorization in the United States and full approval in Japan,” Reuters explains. “The drug is believed to be most effective in treating patients earlier in the course of disease than dexamethasone, which reduced deaths in patients requiring supportive oxygen and those on a ventilator.”
Gilead Sciences is also in the process of developing an inhaled version of the drug for potential outpatient use.
The company had reportedly agreed to price the drug at $2,340 per patient — lower than the suggested $2,520 to $2,800 price tag — but will charge U.S. patients with private insurance $3,120 per treatment course.
Daniel O’Day, Gilead’s chairman and chief executive, explained the costs for the treatment in an open letter, writing:
In normal circumstances, we would price a medicine according to the value it provides. The first results from the NIAID study in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 showed that remdesivir shortened time to recovery by an average of four days. Taking the example of the United States, earlier hospital discharge would result in hospital savings of approximately $12,000 per patient. Even just considering these immediate savings to the healthcare system alone, we can see the potential value that remdesivir provides. This is before we factor in the direct benefit to those patients who may have a shorter stay in the hospital.
We have decided to price remdesivir well below this value. To ensure broad and equitable access at a time of urgent global need, we have set a price for governments of developed countries of $390 per vial. Based on current treatment patterns, the vast majority of patients are expected to receive a 5-day treatment course using 6 vials of remdesivir, which equates to $2,340 per patient.
As highlighted by The Washington Post, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) used the massive buy as an opportunity to attack the Trump administration for not demanding a lower price.
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