- A potential coronavirus treatment developed by Gilead Sciences won’t come cheap.
- The resource-constrained developing world would be especially hard hit if the respiratory illness gets out of control.
- Biotech stocks have enjoyed a rally in the wake of the outbreak.
Coronavirus has been, rightly or wrongly, compared to the flu based on a similar set of symptoms. President Donald Trump even reportedly enquired from a biotech CEO whether a flu shot could work as a COVID-19 vaccine.
And not only is a confirmed cure and a vaccine for COVID-19 not yet available, but it is likely to be prohibitively expensive when it arrives. At least if recent estimates are anything to go by.
Coronavirus drugs won’t come cheap
According to a Wall Street firm, one of the potential drugs for the respiratory disease caused by coronavirus could cost up to 750% more than flu treatments.
Per Oppenheimer analyst Hartaj Singh, the coronavirus drug being tested by biotech firm Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD) could cost between $50 and $100 a patient.
That’s substantially higher than the typical cost of an influenza vaccine, which ranges between $11.67 and $18.19 based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention price list.
That means a coronavirus drug could be more than 750% more expensive than the cheapest flu vaccine.
Can the world afford Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir?
If the ongoing clinical trials of remdesivir are successful and the pricing estimates are correct, the government funds allocated to fighting the coronavirus outbreak would be highly inadequate.
That would be even more obvious if the outbreak reaches pandemic proportions and a need for a mass vaccine or cure emerged.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has provided $50 billion to low-income and emerging market countries to assist in fighting the outbreak. But at a theoretical price of $100 per dose, the funds would only be enough to vaccinate or treat 500 million people. This is just a fraction of the total number of people in poor countries – and fails to account for other related costs.
Per the United Nations, the total population of “least developed” countries, “landlocked developing” countries and “small island developing” states was 1.625 billion in 2019.
The World Bank has pledged $12 billion in emergency aid to developing countries. Assuming no other costs, this would cover just 120 million doses of a $100 coronavirus drug.
In the U.S., Congress recently allocated $8.3 billion in emergency funds to fight the coronavirus. If this amount were to be spent entirely on availing remdesivir to the population, it might only cover 83 million Americans.
COVID-19 outbreak boosts Gilead Sciences’ stock
In late February, Gilead announced that it had started testing its investigational compound known as remdesivir as a treatment for COVID-19. Remdesivir had previously shown promise in other coronaviruses that resemble COVID-19 in structure. Two Phase 3 clinical studies are currently underway.
Other biotech firms that are currently working on a coronavirus cure include Moderna, (NASDAQ:MRNA) and Novavax (NASDAQ:NVAX).
This article was edited by Josiah Wilmoth, Sam Bourgi.