Gilead Sciences said Monday it will charge $2,340 for usual treatment of remdesivir, a drug that is used to shorten recovery time for severely ill COVID-19 patients. However, critics have called the price "an outrage" because of the amount taxpayers invested toward its development.
The drug maker said Monday that price would be for people covered by government health programs in the United States and other developed countries. For patients with private health insurance, the price would be $3,120. The amount that patients actually pay themselves could be lower.
Gilead's chief executive Dan O'Day told the Associated Press, "We're in uncharted territory with pricing a new medicine, a novel medicine, in a pandemic."
He added that the company had to price the drug to ensure more people can get them rather than based only on value to patients.
O'Day said the treatments that the company has given to the U.S. and other countries will run out in about a week. The prices will apply to the drug after that.
In the U.S., federal health officials have shared the limited supply with states. But the agreement with Gilead will end after September. They said Monday that the U.S. government has received more than 500,000 additional treatments. Gilead will begin production in July to supply hospitals through September.
O'Day said there will be enough supply of remdesivir. He added, "but we have to make sure it's in the right place at the right time."
In 127 poor or middle-income countries, Gilead is permitting other drug makers to supply the drug. Two countries are doing that for about $600 for each treatment.
Remdesivir became the first medicine to show benefit in treating COVID-19. The disease has killed more than 500,000 people worldwide in six months.
Remdesivir restricts the coronavirus's ability to copy its genetic material. In a U.S. government-led study, the drug shortened recovery time by 31 percent. Patients recovered in 11 days on average versus 15 days for those given just usual care. It had not improved survival according to early results after two weeks of follow-up. Results after four weeks are expected soon.
The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review is a nonprofit group that studies drug prices. The group said remdesivir would be cost-effective between $4,580 and $5,080 if it saved lives. But recent news that a less costly drug called dexamethasone improves survival means remdesivir should be priced between $2,520 and $2,800.
"This is a high price for a drug that has not been shown to reduce mortality," Dr. Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic said in an email. "Given the serious nature of the pandemic, I would prefer that the government take over production and distribute the drug for free."
Peter Maybarduk is a lawyer at the consumer group Public Citizen. He called the price "an outrage."
"This is a drug that received at least $70 million" from the government toward its development, he said. "Remdesivir should be in the public domain."
Gilead says it will have spent $1 billion on developing and making the drug by the end of this year.
The drug can be used for emergencies in the U.S., and Gilead has asked for full approval.
I'm Jonathan Evans.