Former presidential candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders slammed the Trump administration Thursday for giving Gilead Sciences a "windfall" deal to secure most of the pharmaceutical company's supply of its coronavirus-fighting drug remdesivir with the United States.
In a new letter addressed to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar that was obtained by CNBC, Warren, Sanders and other lawmakers said the deal will give Gilead up to $500 million in revenue borne almost entirely by American taxpayers, "in whole or in part" through higher insurance premiums.
"Outside analysts have concluded that 'The deal is amazingly good for Gilead's executives and shareholders and amazingly bad for everyone else—bad for taxpayers, terrible for public health, and unethical,'" the lawmakers wrote in the later dated Thursday. "We are therefore requesting information from the Department to help us better understand why President Trump—or whichever Administration officials were responsible— would strike such an expensive deal, and what steps the Administration is taking to ensure sufficient supply of the drug."
Gilead and HHS weren't immediately available for comment.
The deal gives the U.S. more than 500,000 treatment courses of the antiviral drug for U.S. hospitals through September, the Department of Health and Human Services announced June 29. That represents 100% of Gilead's projected production for July and 90% of production for August and September, according to the agency. Gilead said it would sell remdesivir for $520 per vial in the U.S. to patients with private insurance and $390 per vial to federal insurance programs like Medicare as well as foreign countries. The majority of patients treated with remdesivir receive a five-day treatment course using six vials of remdesivir, the company said. That would bring the cost to $2,340 for foreign and U.S. Medicare patients and $3,120 for U.S. patients with private health coverage.
That means Gilead is charging "American health insurers the highest prices in the world," the senators wrote.
"In other words, America's private health insurers — and, ultimately, all families and businesses that pay for these costs via health insurance premiums — will be paying $860 more than governments in other countries will pay," the lawmakers wrote in the letter.
There are no Food and Drug Administration-approved treatments for Covid-19, which which has infected more than 13 million people worldwide and killed at least 584,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Remdesivir, which was being developed as early as 2009, was granted an emergency use authorization by the FDA in May after the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases released preliminary results from a study that showed Covid-19 patients who took the drug usually recovered after 11 days, four days faster than those who didn't take it.
When Azar announced the agreement last month, he called it "an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorized therapeutic for COVID-19. To the extent possible, we want to ensure that any American patient who needs remdesivir can get it."
He said the administration "is doing everything in our power to learn more about life-saving therapeutics for COVID-19 and secure access to these options for the American people."
Read the full letter here:
Correction: Warren, Sanders and other lawmakers said the deal will give Gilead up to $500 million in revenue. An earlier version misstated the amount.