COVID-19: $1 price tag possible on potential coronavirus drugs

A protective face mask lays amid grass on the Piazza del Campo, that hosts the Palio di Siena horse race twice a year, which has grown only since a strict lockdown has meant crowds of tourists and Italians can no longer visit the square, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in the medieval city of Siena, Italy, April 9, 2020.
Image Credit: REUTERS

Potential coronavirus treatments could be made for as little as $1, well below their typical price tags in pharmacies, according to an analysis of nine drugs in clinical trials.

If their promise is confirmed in ongoing studies, medicines for Covid-19, including hydroxychloroquine, which President Donald Trump touted as a treatment, and Gilead Sciences Inc.’s remdesivir could be manufactured from $1 to $29 a course, a study published Friday in the Journal of Virus Eradication found.

Results of randomized, controlled trials of several new treatments will emerge in the next three months. If the drugs show promise, there is a potential to massively scale up production and provide low-cost generic supplies worldwide, said Andrew Hill, a senior visiting research fellow in the pharmacology department at Liverpool University and a co-author of the paper.

“At these low prices, anyone needing treatment for coronavirus, in any country, should be able to access the treatment they need,” Hill said in an email. Some of these drugs are sold for hundreds of times more than the cost of production, particularly in the U.S., he added.

“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,” Hill said. “We already know how to mass produce and distribute low-cost drugs to treat HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. It is time to repeat these success stories for coronavirus, but this time much more quickly.”

Manufacturing costs were estimated for nine drugs considered to be leading candidates for the treatment of Covid-19 based on recent reviews and analysis of ongoing clinical trials, Hill and his co-authors said.

Hepatitis, HIV

Minimum costs of production were estimated from the prices of active pharmaceutical ingredients using established methodology, which had good predictive accuracy for medicines for hepatitis C and HIV among others, according to the study.

“This pricing study shows clearly that potential medicines to treat COVID-19 are not at all expensive to produce and could be priced such that anyone who needs treatment should be able to access it,” said Jessica Burry, a pharmacist with medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres’ Access Campaign, in a statement.

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