Even With Insurance, the COVID Drug Remdesivir Is Shockingly Expensive

Gilead Sciences, the pharmaceutical company behind the COVID-19 treatment remdesivir, just announced what it will charge for the antiviral drug.

Patients with health insurance from a private company can expect to pay about $520 for a single dose, The Wall Street Journal reports. That comes out to $3,120 for the five-day treatment the vast majority of patients receive, and $5,720 for a ten-day course. Because remdesivir may be the first COVID-19 treatment to receive full FDA approval, its price tag could set the precedent for other new treatments that emerge down the road, though the WSJ reports that the potential approval of the vastly-cheaper dexamethasone could drive down the cost of remdesivir instead.

The high cost — which will be reduced to $390 per dose under government insurance like Medicare — will be enacted in July and is motivated by Gilead trying to recoup its research and development investments as it ships the drug out to hospitals around the world. And besides, Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day told the WSJ, patients may still end up paying a lower hospital bill than they would have without remdesivir if the drug shortens their stay.

Other countries are likely to negotiate prices similar to the Medicare costs when they buy from Gilead, according to the WSJ. But in countries like Bangladesh, where Gilead has licensed the medication to generic drugmakers, the cost for a full treatment course could be under $1,000 — because the raw materials for a full treatment course of remdesivir cost less than $10.

Remdesivir was first approved under an FDA emergency authorization back in May. At the time, data suggested it could cut a coronavirus patient’s hospital stay by an average of four days compared to those receiving standard treatments without remdesivir. Given the cost per night of staying in a hospital’s COVID-19 ward, heading home sooner means a significantly lower bill.

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