Cost of potential Covid-19 drugs highest in US, could block poor patients from accessing them: Study
The study examined 9 drugs that were developed to treat other conditions
The US tops the list of countries that market potential Covid-19 drugs at prices higher than its production value, according to a study.
The study highlights how high pricing could block sick patients from accessing drugs, heightening inequality. This comes as the world is desperately trying to develop treatments for the disease that has sickened more than 4.1 million worldwide. At least 286,355 people are now dead, according to Johns Hopkins University.
“There has been a long history of big pharmaceutical companies charging unnecessary and unwarranted high prices for medications, even if they spent very little on research and development for that medication," one of the study’s authors, Dr Jacob Levi, told The Guardian.
“That’s been extremely common with infectious disease medications in the past, like Hepatitis and HIV, and we can’t let it happen with medications for Covid-19. Otherwise, hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths would occur, and healthcare inequality amongst the poor will worsen," Levi, from the Imperial College London, added.
Levi and his colleagues looked at nine potential drugs against Covid-19, including remdesivir, favipiravir, Lopinavir/ritonavir, Hydroxychloroquine, Chloroquine, Azithromycin, Sofosbuvir/daclatasvir, Pirfenidone, and Tocilizumab. The team predicted production costs and compared them with their market value.
Though these drugs were developed to treat other conditions, experts think repurposing them to treat Covid-19 holds promise. Scientists are studying its effects on patients.
What does the study say?
Sofosbuvir is used to treat chronic Hepatitis C, an infectious liver disease caused by infection with the Hepatitis C Virus. In the US, the drug is priced at $18,610 though it costs only $5 to produce a course.
Experts are evaluating whether Pirfenidone, a drug against a lung disease, can help patients with severe Covid-19 infection. The US charges $9606 per course against a production cost of only $31.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved remdesivir for emergency use after a study showed patients on the drug recovered 31% faster than those on a placebo. The new study estimated that the company shelled out $9 to produce a course.
While the company has not fixed the price of the drug yet, another analysis predicted that they could charge $4,500 per patient. "We are releasing these estimates now, despite the fact that the evidence is highly uncertain and evolving because now is the time when the public and policymakers should be actively debating how to link pricing to an overall platform to develop treatments for Covid-19," a statement from the report read.
Given the circumstances, authorities should sell effective drugs at prices close to the cost of manufacture. "Repurposed drugs may be our only option to treat Covid-19 for the next 12–18 months until effective vaccines can be developed and manufactured at scale. If repurposed drugs do show efficacy against COVID-19, they could be manufactured at very low unit prices, in the range of $1 to $29 per treatment course," Levi and his colleagues wrote in the study.