According to a report by drug pricing experts at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and King’s College Hospital in London, a five-day course of molnupiravir only costs $17.74 to produce.
So why is Merck charging the U.S. government $712, or over 40 times the production price of the drug?
Is molnupiravir key to treating coronavirus?
Molnupiravir is making waves because the new drug is allegedly a “huge advance” in the treatment of the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) and it was developed with funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Defense (DoD).
On Oct. 8, it was announced that molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalization among clinical trial volunteers with moderate or mild illness by 50 percent, suggesting that it may be key to ending the coronavirus pandemic.
Monoclonal antibodies are an antiviral treatment that is administered intravenously. But as a pill, molnupiravir is more accessible. Health experts hope that the drug can help reduce the coronavirus death rate.
According to the statement from Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, the two companies that jointly launched molnupiravir, there were no deaths reported among the 385 patients who received the drug in the first 29 days of the trial.
Unfortunately, eight of the people who received a placebo died.
It comes as no surprise that molnupiravir could rake in the profits for both Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. Ridgeback is a small company based in Miami and it licensed the medicine from Emory University in 2020. Two months later, Ridgeback sold the worldwide rights of the molnupiravir drug to Merck for a confidential amount.
Molnupiravir, originally considered as a possible treatment for Venezuelan equine encephalitis, was developed using government funds.
According to research from the nonprofit Knowledge Ecology International, a division of the DoD called the Defense Threat Reduction Agency shelled out over $10 million of funding in 2013 and 2015 to Emory. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the NIH, has also provided Emory over $19 million in additional grants. (Related: Doctor says US “wasting money” on coronavirus drug from Merck.)
Merck cashing in on molnupiravir
Only Merck and Ridgeback will enjoy profits from the new antiviral, which is slated to bring in as much as $7 billion by the end of 2021.
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