Lawmakers Call for Investigation Into Federal Contributions to Remdesivir Development

A letter penned by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), of the Senate Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Finance, calls on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the development of remdesivir, the first drug authorized to treat COVID-19.

The lawmakers allege that the drug, sold by Gilead Sciences, was developed with the help of an estimated $70 million in federal funding and contributions from U.S. government scientists. A preprint study from the National Biomedical Research Foundation, published on medRxiv, calculated that the National Institutes of Health invested $6.5 billion between 2000 and 2019 in “foundational research” that enabled development of remdesivir.

However, “despite investing significant resources in the development of remdesivir, the federal government is now expected to spend billions of dollars purchasing the drug,” Sen. Stabenow and Rep. Maloney wrote.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has committed to purchasing most of the available supply of the drug through the end of September. Remdesivir has been priced at $390 per vial, or $2,340 for a 5-day treatment course. Commercially insured patients will be charged more – $520 for a vial, or $3,120 over 5 days. An analysis from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Drug Pricing Lab notes that Medicaid and Medicare recipients also will pay the higher rate.

“Analysts have projected that at this price point, Gilead will generate nearly $2 billion in profits from remdesivir by the end of this year, while public health experts have warned that remdesivir’s price may strain Medicare and hospitals treating COVID-19 patients,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter asks GAO to explore the extent of federal contributions to remdesivir and the legal rights of federal agencies related to their contributions to the discovery and development of the drug.

Gilead has previously maintained that if treatment with remdesivir results in earlier hospital discharges, the drug could save about $12,000 per patient, according to STAT.

Sources: STAT, July 28, 2020; Drug Pricing Lab Data Brief, July 1, 2020. Letter to Gene L. Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States, July 27, 2020; Cleary EG, Jackson MJ, et al. Foundational research and NIH funding enabling Emergency Use Authorization of remdesivir for COVID-19. medRxiv preprint. July 1, 2020.