Covid pill makers accused of selling drug to US at 40 times what it costs

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A report found that a company that manufactures an experimental antiviral pill for the treatment of Kovid-19 is accused of selling the drug to the US for 40 times the cost of its production.

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Molnupiravir, manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Merck, has entered into a contract with the US government to supply 1.7 million courses at a cost of $700 per course. However, an analysis of drug pricing by the Harvard School of Public Health and King’s College Hospital in London found that it took about $17.74 to manufacture a five-day course.

The pill, touted as a breakthrough in the treatment of the coronavirus, was originally developed to treat influenza using government funding. The antiviral drug could cut the chances of dying or being hospitalized in half for people at risk of contracting severe COVID-19.


The drug is designed to introduce an error in the genetic code of the virus and is the first oral antiviral drug for COVID-19.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a body under the Department of Defense, invested in a “broad-spectrum antiviral leading to the discovery of mollupiravir through collaborative research” with Merck, Emory University, Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and the National Institutes of Health.

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As Axios reports, the government originally awarded a $29 million grant to Emory University between 2013 and 2020. But the federal government refused to put more money into the drug until there was more data. In May 2020, Merck bought Special right To sell and manufacture medicine around the world.

Despite the government investment, the company plans to seek emergency use authorization in the US in the coming weeks, with Ridgeback making gains and could earn up to $7bn by the end of this year, reported quartz.

While critics have argued that the prices should be subsidized due to funding from the exchequer, in an interview CNBCRidgeback co-founder Wendy Holman defended the prices, saying that when the company solicited, they “didn’t get government funding” to help manufacture the drug before it went to Merck.

Merck has not issued any comment on the matter.

Luis Gil Abinador, senior researcher at the NGO Knowledge Ecology International Intercept That the company was trying to “reshape the narrative” about drug development.

“What they want to do, apparently, is to shape the narrative about who has paid for the development of this drug in order to avoid making it available to the public at a reasonable price,” he said.

Merck previously said it would implement “a level pricing approach based on World Bank data that recognizes the relative ability of countries to finance their health response to the pandemic.”

It has entered into licensing agreements with at least eight companies in India including Aurobindo Pharma, Cipla, Dr Reddy’s Labs, Emcure Pharmaceuticals, Hetero Labs, Sun Pharmaceuticals, Torrent Pharmaceuticals and Viatris. This would allow each company to manufacture and sell the drug in India and 100 other low- and middle-income countries.

Credit: / Covid

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