Merck is charging the US $712 for one course of its experimental COVID pill that cuts risk of hospitalization and death in half - 40 TIMES what drug cost to make
- Category: Uncategorised
- Created: Thursday, 07 October 2021 08:06
- Written by Mary Kekatos - Acting US Health Editor for DailyMail.com and Associated Press
- A five-day course of Merck's drug, molnupiravir, costs $17.74 to produce
- But the company is charging the Biden administration $712 for the same amount
- Experts say the price will make the drug unaffordable for some while others will be able to afford it but won't want to take it if they are ill because of the price
- Molnupiravir stops viruses like the coronavirus from making copies of itself and spreading throughout the body
- A study found 7.3% of the treatment group were either hospitalized or died at the end of 30 days, compared with 14.1% of those getting a dummy pill
But for the same amount, the pharmaceutical company is charging the Biden administration $712, according to The Intercept.
The pill, which cut the rate of hospitalization and death in half compared to those who received a placebo, was meant to be a gamechanger because it is easier to distribute than monoclonal antibody treatments, which require an IV.
However, the exorbitant price might actually keep the drug out of reach of the patients who need it the most.
Experts say the price will make the drug unaffordable for some while others will be able to afford it but won't want to take it if they are ill because of the price. Pictured: The Merck logo is seen at a gate to the Merck & Co campus in Rahway, New Jersey, July 2018
Molnupiravir is an antiviral drug that was developed at Emory University, in Atlanta, by its drug innovation company, Drug Innovation Ventures at Emory (DRIVE), which was licensed by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics in 2020.
Ridgeback later sold the worldwide rights to Merck & Co for an unknown amount.
In June, the government and Merck signed a $1.2 billion contract for 1.7 million courses of the drug once it receives FDA emergency use authorization.
That means each course of the drug would cost $1.41. But now it seems the drug will cost 600 times as much.
The federal government supplied $29 million in funding, as pointed out by The Intercept.
The Department of Defense provided $10 million in funding to Emory and the National Institutes of Health provided $19 million in grants.
Luis Gil Abinader, a senior researcher at Knowledge Ecology International, told The Intercept the U.S. government has an obligation to make sure the medication is affordable because of the money it provided.
'The public funded this drug, and therefore the public has some rights, including the rights you have it available under reasonable terms,' he said.
But, in an interview with CNBC, Wendy Holman, the co-founder of Ridgeback, said the funding went to Emory, not to Ridegback when it was manufacturing molnupiravir.
'What they want to do, apparently, is to shape the narrative about who paid for the development of this drug in order to avoid demands from the public to make it available at reasonable prices,' Abinader told The Intercept.
Experts say what the $712 cost will ultimately mean is it will be unaffordable for some and others will be able to afford but won't want to take it if they are ill because of the price.
'Offering someone a $700 treatment when they don't yet feel that ill is going to mean that a lot of people are not going to take it,' Dr Dzintars Gotham, a physician at King's College Hospital in London who co-wrote the report about how much a molnupiravir cost to produce.
In the report, he and his colleague wrote that if Merck priced molnupiravir at $19.99, Merck would still earn a 10 percent profit.
Animal studies conducted last year found molnupiravir could completely suppress viral transmission and prevent and reduce severe lung damage.
The new study tracked 775 adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who were considered higher risk for severe illness due to health problems such as obesity, diabetes or heart disease.
Among patients taking molnupiravir, 7.3 percent were either hospitalized or died at the end of 30 days, compared with 14.1 percent of those getting the dummy pill.
There were no deaths in the drug group after that time period compared with eight deaths in the placebo group, according to Merck.
The results were released by the company and have not been peer-reviewed, but Merck says it plans to present them at a future medical meeting.
An independent group of medical experts monitoring the trial recommended stopping it early because the interim results were so strong.
Company executives said they are in discussions with the FDA and plan submit the data for review in coming days.
'It exceeded what I thought the drug might be able to do in this clinical trial,' Dr Dean Li, vice president of Merck research, told the Associated Press.
'When you see a 50 percent reduction in hospitalization or death, that's a substantial clinical impact.'
Side effects were reported by both groups in the Merck trial, but they were slightly more common among the group that received a dummy pill. The company did not specify the problems.