Remdesivir - Worth the Money - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Remdesivir – Worth the Money

Remdesivir – Worth the Money

In May 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) issued an emergency use authorization for Gilead’s drug remdesivir to combat COVID-19.1 Remdesivir is an intravenous antiviral medication now intended to be used on hospitalized patients with a severe form of the disease.2 The authorization is temporary and does not guarantee the safety or efficacy of remdesivir.3 Given the extremely limited scope of authorization, the federal government is handling the distribution of the drug.4 According to preliminary results, remdesivir decreases recovery time for coronavirus patients from fifteen days to eleven.5

All seems great and hopeful—that is, if the price drops. Remdesivir is available at $520 per bottle, or $3,120 for the entire course of treatment, to those with private insurance, while it is priced at $390 per bottle, or $2,340 for the whole treatment, for those with government-sponsored insurance such as Medicare.6 With only “modest” results that do not seem to decrease the mortality rate, the pricing remains controversial.7

Experts suggest that the current pricing of remdesivir is rational, since other drugs being tested will be more expensive once put on the market.8 In fact, Gilead charged less than the $5,000 per treatment regimen that was expected by Wall Street analysts.9 Decreasing hospitalization by four days actually saves $12,000 per patient.10 Decreased hospitalization means more capacity to accept new patients, and more oxygen available to them.11 With that in mind, maybe remdesivir is priced reasonably?

Opponents argue that this “monopoly” over the pricing of such a vital drug must be broken to overcome the shortages that hospitals are experiencing.12 Some point out that taxpayers have every right to remdesivir, since its research was funded by taxpayers through the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.13

The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (“ICER”) puts a fair price range of the drug at somewhere between $2,520 and $5,080 per treatment.14 However, ICER also points out that if remdesivir does not increase survival rates, it might be worth as little as $310.15 As remdesivir so far has not been shown to do so, the current price may be too high for its value.16

But why should remdesivir’s “value” determine its price in the first place? After all, other valuable medical procedures, such as organ transplants, are not priced based on their “value.”17 Dexamethasone, a generic steroid that also has shown promising results in COVID-19 patients, costs less than $1 per day.18 Why should it not cost as much as remdesivir, if to be priced on its “value” alone?19 Remdesivir’s price does not incentivize other companies either—a price tag of $390 per treatment course alone would provide enough profits to be an incentive to others.20

This is not the first time Gilead has been scrutinized for outrageous prices on essential medications: Gilead is notorious for charging thousands of dollars for Truvada, a combination pill that can protect people against contracting the human immunodeficiency virus, better known as H.I.V.21 “Impoverished” populations are more vulnerable to the virus, raising questions about whether high prices are ethical on drugs that are especially necessary to these economically unstable patients.22

So the question remains: is remdesivir actually worth the money, when it hasn’t been formally approved by the FDA, does not decrease mortality, and a cheaper alternative is available?


  1. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Issues Emergency Use Authorization for Potential COVID-19 Treatment, Food and Drug Administration (May 1, 2020), https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-fda-issues-emergency-use-authorization-potential-covid-19-treatment [https://perma.cc/L9YL-7HVB].

  2. Remdesivir Emergency Use, Gilead, https://www.gilead.com/remdesivir [https://perma.cc/DPD7-795R ] (last visited Oct. 12, 2020).

  3. See Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Issues Emergency Use Authorization for Potential COVID-19 Treatment, supra note 1.

  4. Arman Azad & Nicole Chavez, FDA Issues Emergency-Use Authorization for Remdesivir to Treat Hospitalized Patients with Severe COVID-19, CNN (May 1, 2020), https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/01/health/remdesivir-fda-authorization/index.html [https://perma.cc/HX2Y-2HV7].

  5. Id.

  6. Gina Kolata, Remdesivir, the First Coronavirus Drug, Gets a Price Tag, N.Y. Times (June 29, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/29/health/coronavirus-remdesivir-gilead.html?searchResultPosition=5 [https://perma.cc/UHF5-YWKE].

  7. See id.

  8. Id.

  9. Kolata, supra note 6.

  10. Will Feuer, Gilead’s coronavirus treatment remdesivir to cost $3,120 per U.S. patient with private insurance, CNBC (June 29, 2020, 7:43 AM), https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/29/gileads-coronavirus-treatment-remdesivir-to-cost-3120-for-us-insured-patients.html [https://perma.cc/M68N-WPET].

  11. Janice Hopkins Tanne, COVID-19: US Should End Gilead’s Monopoly on Producing Remdesivir, Report Says, BMJ (Sept. 10, 2020), https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m3537 [https://perma.cc/Q2FD-XNPT].

  12. Id.

  13. Allison Inserro, Gilead Sciences Sets US Price for COVID-19 Drug at $2340 to $3120 Based on Insurance, American Journal of Managed Care (June 29, 2020), https://www.ajmc.com/view/gilead-sciences-sets-us-price-for-covid19-drug-at-2340-to-3120-based-on-insurance [https://perma.cc/4MWP-HCD2].

  14. Matthew Herper, Gilead Announces Long-Awaited Price for COVID-19 Drug Remdesivir, STAT (June 29, 2020), https://www.statnews.com/2020/06/29/gilead-announces-remdesivir-price-covid-19/ [https://perma.cc/F9LU-ZEPM].

  15. Id.

  16. Rohan Chalasani & Walid Gellad, The US is Paying Way Too Much for Remdesivir, Wired (July 17, 2020), https://www.wired.com/story/the-us-is-paying-way-too-much-for-remdesivir/ [https://perma.cc/HG5F-89XW].

  17. Id.

  18. Inserro, supra note 13.

  19. See Chalasani & Gellad, supra note 16.

  20. Id.

  21. See Kolata, supra note 6.

  22. Paul Denning & Elizabeth DiNenno, Communities in Crisis: Is There a Generalized HIV Epidemic in Impoverished Urban Areas of the United States?, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Dec. 11, 2019), https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/group/poverty.html [https://perma.cc/9KY2-WBJH].

Chrystel Yoo

Chrystel Yoo is a second-year J.D. candidate at Fordham University School of Law and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal. She holds a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Rutgers University.