[Ip-health] FT: Covid-19 drugs could be made for $1 per day, say academics

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Fri Apr 10 03:28:33 PDT 2020


Covid-19 drugs could be made for $1 per day, say academics

Study argues prices for potential treatments are far higher than the actual
cost of production

The new paper points out that prices are particularly steep in the US ©

Donato Paolo Mancini in London 11 HOURS AGO

Existing drugs with the potential to treat coronavirus could be produced
and sold at a profit by pharmaceutical companies for $1 a day or less,
according to academics.

Liverpool University’s Andrew Hill and others argue in a new paper that
current market prices for an array of potential treatments for Covid-19 are
much higher than costs of production, particularly in the US.

No treatment has yet been shown to work against the novel coronavirus and
none has been officially approved by regulators for Covid-19, but some
doctors are giving them to patients for compassionate use.

Remdesivir, an antiviral initially devised by Gilead Sciences for Ebola
that is in several Covid-19 trials, could be mass produced for $9 per
treatment course, according to the paper in the Journal of Virus

The paper estimates minimum costs of production by considering the costs of
pharmaceutical ingredients, packaging and other items. On top of that, it
assumes that drugmakers will achieve profit margins of 10 per cent.

Dr Hill, a senior visiting research fellow at Liverpool’s department of
translational medicine, said: “The main treatments being evaluated for
coronavirus could be mass produced for $1 per day or less.”

“At these low prices, anyone needing treatment for coronavirus, in any
country, should be able to access the treatment they need,” he noted. “We
urgently need worldwide access to effective antiviral treatments for
coronavirus to hold back the epidemic for the next 18 months until a
vaccine can be produced.”

Gilead disagreed with the findings of the study, saying they “do not
accurately reflect the true cost of manufacturing remdesivir at scale”.

It is currently providing all its current remdesivir supply for trials,
compassionate use and an expanded access programme at no cost, it said.

Drugmakers say they need high profit margins to reward the high risks
involved in investigating molecules and bringing them to market. Critics
say high prices can prevent universal access to vital medicines.

Most of the drugs currently being investigated for the coronavirus are
aimed at stemming the replication of the virus or stopping the body’s
immune system going into overdrive as it attacks the disease — a dangerous
phenomenon known as a cytokine storm.

Another contender is the sofosbuvir/daclatasvir combination, a Hepatitis C
treatment partially made with a Gilead molecule. The academics said it is
on sale for $18,610 per treatment course in the US, and for $6 in Pakistan.
They calculate that it would cost $5 to produce a course of the medicine —
or 39 cents a day.

Hydroxychloroquine, a drug US President Donald Trump has been promoting as
a treatment despite a lack of evidence, has a list price of $19 per course
in China and $2 per course in India, but could be sold at a profit for just
$1 per course, according to the paper.

A combination of lopinavir and ritonavir, known as Kaletra, retails for
$503 in the US. The academics estimated its cost price at $4 per course
instead. AbbVie has dropped the global patent protection for the drug,
which is a relatively mature one, paving the way for cheaper generics.

Pirfenidone, a Roche drug used to treat pulmonary fibrosis that is
currently being investigated for the new coronavirus, sells for $9,606 per
course in the US, but could be sold at a profit for just $31, or $1.09 a

Dr Hill said that makers of generic copies of drugs for which patents have
expired had already mass produced drugs to treat HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and
malaria and achieved profit margins of 10 per cent.

“It is time to repeat these success stories for coronavirus, but this time
much more quickly,” he said.

Prices in Europe are typically much lower than in the US, partly because
national health services can negotiate bulk discounts with manufacturers.

Pressure is already building on companies to relinquish their patents on
some of these drugs.

Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International
41 22 791 6727
thiru at keionline.org

More information about the Ip-health mailing list