Warning of "dangerously low and insufficient" supply projections, a bipartisan coalition of nearly three dozen state attorneys general is urging the Trump administration to end pharmaceutical giant Gilead's monopoly control over Covid-19 treatment remdesivir by authorizing generic production of the drug, which was developed with the support of at least $70 million in taxpayer funding.
"Taxpayers funded remdesivir's development from the drug's early days. Generic competition would help expand supply and ensure reasonable pricing. Remdesivir should be in the public domain."
—Peter Maybarduk, Public Citizen
"Now more than ever, the American public needs the support of the federal government in helping them afford Covid-19-related treatment," the coalition led by California's Democratic AG Xavier Becerra and Louisiana's Republican AG Jeff Landry wrote in a letter (pdf) Tuesday to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins.
"This is not the time for any company to extract large corporate profits from uninsured and underinsured Americans—nor can we allow the individual market priorities and weaknesses of one company to determine the fates of hundreds of thousands of people," the letter reads. "Gilead should not profit from the pandemic and it should be pushed to do more to help more people."
The attorneys general are demanding that the Trump administration immediately exercise its authority under the Bayh-Dole Act, a 1980 law giving the federal government the power to license third-party manufacturers to produce a drug if the patent-holder fails to make the treatment available on "reasonable terms."
"At a minimum," the attorneys general wrote, "we ask that you support states by assigning to states the ability to use the march-in rights under this law to achieve the same purposes."
It is time for the Trump Administration to work with our bipartisan coalition of states to help increase the availability and affordability of Remdesivir.
With coronavirus cases rising across the nation, our leaders must step up and do what is best for the people.
— Xavier Becerra (@AGBecerra) August 4, 2020
As Common Dreams reported in June, Gilead is charging U.S. hospitals around $3,120 per privately insured patient for a treatment course of remdesivir—a price tag the attorneys general slammed as "outrageous and unconscionable." Consumer advocacy group Public Citizen estimates that Gilead could have priced remdesivir at $1 per day and still turned a reasonable profit.
"It is unfortunate that Gilead has chosen to place its profit margins over the interests of Americans suffering in this pandemic," the coalition of attorneys general wrote. "Record unemployment and ongoing financial troubles will prevent many Americans from paying for remdesivir. Even for the insured, Gilead’s excessive pricing makes copayments and out-of-pocket expenses cost-prohibitive."
Despite the massive infusion of public funding for remdesivir, the attorneys general warned that Gilead remains "unable to guarantee a supply of remdesivir sufficient to alleviate the health and safety needs of the country amid the pandemic."
"Gilead's production projection remains dangerously low and insufficient to handle the current domestic demands, let alone future demands for the antiviral drug," reads the letter, which was signed by attorneys general from Minnesota, Ohio, Utah, Nebraska, and dozens of other states.
Peter Maybarduk, director of the Access to Medicines program at Public Citizen, echoed the demand for an end to Gilead's monopoly on remdesivir production in a statement Tuesday.
"Gilead's monopoly control of remdesivir leads to shortages and rationing and keeps prices high," said Maybarduk. "Taxpayers funded remdesivir's development from the drug's early days. Generic competition would help expand supply and ensure reasonable pricing. The federal government—we the people, that is—appears to co-own remdesivir's core patents. Remdesivir should be in the public domain."
"While remdesivir is no kind of pandemic panacea," Maybarduk added, "hospitals should be able to rely on a robust, affordable supply and make choices according to medical need."