Drug Company To Charge Thousands For COVID-19 Treatment

Jun 29, 2020

A five-day course of the antiviral drug remdesivir will cost private health insurers in the United States more than $3,000, Gilead Chairman & CEO Daniel O'Day said Monday

The Department of Health and Human Services already obtained more than 500,000 treatment courses to ensure "any American patient who needs remdesivir gets it" through September, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said.

"President Trump has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorized therapeutic for COVID-19," Azar said in a press release.

Gilead donated 1.5 million vials of remdesivir worldwide before announcing its price.

Remdesivir is an antiviral medicine being used to treat hospitalized patients with serious symptoms caused by COVID-19 like low oxygen levels or pneumonia. It has been found to shorten the duration of the disease in patients being treated in inpatient hospital settings. Remdesivir is given intravenously and decreases the amount of coronavirus in the body, helping patients recover faster.

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The patients who will get remdesivir are COVID-19 positive, on a ventilator or currently being treated with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, a machine that takes over the work of the heart and lungs.

These criteria are subject to change based on the availability of remdesivir and the development of patient care at hospital facilities across the state.

Hospitals will pay no more than Gilead’s Wholesale Acquisition Price, which amounts to approximately $3,200 per treatment course, the HHS statement said.

"Generally, patients do not pay directly for hospital-administered drugs like remdesivir; rather, for Medicare and most private insurers, the drug’s cost is incorporated into payments made by the insurer, such as Medicare paying for the drug through a diagnostic-related group," HHS said.

Gilead's CEO said the first results from the National Institue of Allergy and Infectious Diseases 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.

The Food and Drug Administration gave remdesivir emergency use authoriztion for COVID-19, even though the antiviral is considered investigational and it is still being studied. Remdesivir was originally developed for use against Ebola.

NIAID Director Anthony Fauci has said the drug should be the standard of care in treating COVID-19 patients because it is the first drug with demonstrated efficacy in treatment. 

Clinical trials for remdesivir were done in Georgia at Emory University Hospital and its affiliated hospitals. Emory enrolled 103 patients for the trial, more than any other institution in the world. There were a total of 47 sites in the United States and 21 others in Europe and Asia.