First COVID Drug Is Coming; Not That You Can Afford It
When Jonas Salk, the inventor of the polio vaccine, was asked how much he would benefit from his world-changing invention, he looked quizzically at his interviewer and answered: "There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?" At that moment, as the good doctor rejected an estimated $7 billion in potential profit, Salk set a benchmark for the entire pharmaceutical industry to always put human lives above profit, to not perceive pandemics as an opportunity for perverse profit but to provide a public good. And that is a tradition, as we see today, that Big Pharma managed to uphold for exactly zero seconds after Salk stopped speaking.
Gilead Sciences, a Biblical name most associated with the evil dystopian cabal in The Handmaid's Tale, will start selling the first approved COVID-19 drug treatment, the antiviral remdesivir, in July. Taken six times over five days, remdesivir has the chance to cut the infected's recovery time by several days, reducing both suffering and precious hospital bed occupation. And Gilead plans to make the treatment available across the world as quickly as possible -- starting November, as they made a backroom deal with the Trump government to give America dibs on the first 500,000 courses in return for getting to establish a non-negotiable price point.
That price point? $520 for a single vial, or $3,120 for the entire treatment. Though outside America, Gilead will offer remdesivir at a 25% discount per treatment as to make it even "affordable for developed countries with the lowest purchasing power." But seeing as $2,340 is still more than a year's wages in places like Bulgaria, I can only assume they mean it's affordable given how much you can get for selling your kidney on the Sofia black market.
If that sounds like a lot of money for a drug that in no way increases survivability but only speeds up Death's coin toss, and whose development was in part funded by taxpayer money, Gilead wants to remind you that it's doing you a big favor. In an open letter, CEO Daniel O'Day reminded critics that this treatment could save American COVID sufferers up to $12,000 in hospital bills. So if you give them your money now, you don't have to spend your life savings on slowly dying in a hospital bed with a tube jammed down your throat. That's usually the kind of amazing deal you only hear when someone asks you for the time in a dark alleyway.
And just to showcase how grotesquely greedy Big Pharma can be, O'Day is still correct in claiming that Gilead is the good guy -- relatively speaking. It's common practice for Big Pharma to price treatments slightly under the money it's speculated to be saving you. As such, many market watchdogs had expected Gilead (who again, were given a capitalist carte blanche by the American government) to charge much much more for their corona drug. So thanks, Gilead, nobly assuring that some middle-class people will also have a slightly nicer time during our modern plague.
For more weird tangents, do follow Cedric on Twitter.