As the U.S. approaches 200,000 coronavirus deaths, a coalition of 11 state treasurers is calling on drugmaker Gilead Sciences to reduce the price of remdesivir, its promising treatment for some patients of COVID-19.
In a letter to the California-based drugmaker on Wednesday, the state treasurers, led by Pennsylvania's Joe Torsella and Ohio's Robert Sprague, asked the company to "responsibly commit to being a part of our nation's recovery from COVID-19, both medically and economically, by repricing this drug more affordably."
Remdesivir is an antiviral treatment shown to diminish recovery time in hospitalized coronavirus patients. Federal regulators fast-tracked its availability under an emergency use authorization in May. By late June, Gilead set its price at $520 per dose for U.S. private insurance companies and $390 per dose for the U.S. government.
Most patients receive a five-day treatment, meaning the total charged for those with private insurers adds up to $3,120. For those enrolled in government health programs, that total is $2,340.
"Gilead has a responsibility to its customers, shareholders, and to the taxpayers not to take advantage of these heartbreaking circumstances," Torsella said in a press release Tuesday. "American taxpayers have already paid the price. They deserve an affordable treatment when loved ones face the most severe cases of COVID-19."
In Wednesday's letter, the treasurers pleaded with Gilead "in a spirit of shared sacrifice," but also noted that their concerns come as fiduciaries of their state, as several are shareholders in the company.
"On behalf of the taxpayers in each of our states, and -- in many cases -- investors in Gilead, we strongly encourage you not to take financial advantage of these extraordinary circumstances," they wrote.
A spokesperson for Gilead said the company was "disappointed by the mischaracterization of the development and pricing" of remdesivir in the letter. The company maintains that the drug’s value in saving hospital costs far offsets the upfront costs of taking the five-day treatment.
"Gilead took a thoughtful approach to pricing [remdesivir] during this pandemic," the spokesperson said. "We have set a price for [remdesivir] that is significantly below the value it provides to healthcare systems and patients, and in a way that will facilitate patients’ rapid access to the drug."
The company has come under scrutiny for its remdesivir pricing in the past. Last month, a bipartisan group of state attorneys general also penned a letter to Gilead calling their price point for the drug "outrageous and unconscionable."
The state attorneys general claim one vial of the drug -- a daily dose -- costs between $1 and $12 to manufacture. One peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Virus Eradication earlier this year suggested that one dose could be produced for only 93 cents.
In August, a Gilead spokesperson pushed back on those figures, telling ABC News that "fair-minded audiences will understand that the cost to manufacture a complicated investigational drug like remdesivir, which relies on raw materials sourced from around the world, involves multiple chemical reactions and requires sterile manufacturing facilities, is not 93 cents."
The company did not say how much the drug does cost to manufacture.