In a development that is being keenly watched by health workers across the world, Gilead Sciences has priced its investigational Covid-19 drug remdesivir at $390 per vial for governments in developed countries.

The total cost to a patient will be $2,340, as current treatment patterns indicate a five-day treatment course of six vials of remdesivir. This announcement from Gilead’s Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Daniel O’Day, in an open letter, comes even as Indian generic companies that had been given voluntary licences to make remdesivir start to roll out their version of the drug at a fraction of the cost.

About a week ago, Hetero Labs announced its version of remdesivir at ₹5,400 per vial (about $72). Cipla, too, is rolling out its version of the drug, and a clutch of others, including Jubilant Lifesciences, Zydus Cadila, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories and Mylan are expected to stir the price-pot further when they launch. Companies in Bangladesh like Beximco reportedly sell the drug at about $65 per vial.

Gilead has received DCGI approval for remdesivir, branded Veklury. However, details on its availability and pricing in India are not clear at present.

Price for insurance firms

In fact, the US will see a higher price for private insurance companies. “In the US, the same government price of $390 per vial will apply. Because of the way the system works in the US and the discounts that government healthcare programmes expect, the price for US private insurance companies will be $520 per vial.”

Health advocacy workers have been calling on world leaders to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 drugs, vaccines and technologies, without select partnerships and patent-related barriers.

“In normal circumstances, we would price a medicine according to the value it provides,” Gilead’s CEO said, pointing to early results that showed that the drug reduced time to recovery by four days.

In the US, early hospital discharge would result in hospital savings of approximately $12,000 per patient, he pointed out. “We have decided to price remdesivir well below this value,” he said, giving details of the price to governments.

“Part of the intent behind our decision was to remove the need for country-by-country negotiations on price. We discounted the price to a level that is affordable for developed countries with the lowest purchasing power. This price will be offered to all governments in developed countries where remdesivir is approved or authorised for use,” the letter said.

“Remdesivir, our investigational treatment, is the first antiviral to have demonstrated patient improvement in clinical trials for Covid-19 and there is no playbook for how to price a new medicine in a pandemic,” he said, setting out to explain how the company arrived at its pricing for the drug.