Taxpayers paid to develop remdesivir but ‘no say’ when Gilead sets price

Chron.com:

“Gilead did not make this drug alone. The public helped make it, and the public has a stake,” said Peter Maybarduk, director of the access to medicines program at Public Citizen.

Is this true of other covid-fighting drugs as well?

The drug that buoyed expectations for a coronavirus treatment and drew international attention for Gilead Sciences, remdesivir, started as a reject, an also-ran in the search for antiviral drugs. Its path to relevance did not begin until Robert Jordan cleared it.

A Gilead scientist at the time, Jordan convinced the company seven years ago to let him assemble a library of 1,000 castoff molecules in a search for medicines to treat emerging viruses. Many viral illnesses threaten human health but do not attract commercial interest, because they lack potential for huge drug sales.

“I kept asking them, ‘Is this OK?’ ” said Jordan, who is now a vice president at a pharmaceutical start-up. “These don’t represent a commercial opportunity but a public health opportunity. Gilead gave me their blessing to do this on the side.”

To make progress, Gilead needed help from U.S. taxpayers. Lots of help. Three federal health agencies were deeply involved in remdesivir’s development every step of the way, providing tens of millions of dollars of government research support. Now that big government role has set up a political showdown over pricing and access.

Despite the heavy subsidies, federal agencies have not asserted patent rights to Gilead’s drug, potentially a blockbuster therapy worth billions of dollars. That means Gilead will have few constraints other than political pressure when it sets a price in coming weeks. Critics are urging the Trump administration to take a more aggressive approach.

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“Agencies can’t just punt it over the fence to a pharmaceutical company and walk away,” said James Krellenstein, a co-founder of PrEP4All. “For the federal government to just walk away from that responsibility is a dereliction of the public trust.”

Two other nonprofit watchdog groups, Knowledge Ecology International and Public Citizen, also have documented the large taxpayer-funded contributions toward the drug. Public Citizen estimates public investment at a minimum of $70 million.

“Gilead did not make this drug alone. The public helped make it, and the public has a stake,” said Peter Maybarduk, director of the access to medicines program at Public Citizen.

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