Pfizer is among the COVID-19 vaccine frontrunners racing to deliver a safe and effective shot, and now it's chipping in with manufacturing on the therapeutic side.
The drug giant teamed up with Gilead Sciences to help manufacture the antiviral drug remdesivir, as Gilead and its partners push to meet “real-time global demand” beginning in October. Joining a remdesivir network of more than 40 drugmakers in the U.S., Europe and Asia, Pfizer will produce remdesivir at its plant in McPherson, Kansas.
The tie-up comes as hard-hit U.S. hospitals report shortages of the medicine, which the FDA cleared for emergency use against COVID-19 back in May. Studies have shown remdesivir, administered via IV, can cut death risks and recovery time in severe cases.
In a recent survey of mostly hospital pharmacists, one-third said they don’t have enough supply of the drug on hand. Headlines from around the country have outlined tight supply in places like the Bay Area, Houston, Tampa Bay and elsewhere.
The manufacturing deal is part of Pfizer’s five-point response plan for COVID-19, unveiled in March. The drugmaker is among the largest manufacturers of vaccines, biologics and sterile injectables, and CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement it’s a “privilege to offer our expertise and infrastructure to help fight this pandemic.”
“In that spirit, we are pleased that Gilead is using our manufacturing capacity to help facilitate supply of this medicine to patients as quickly as possible,” he added.
For its part, Gilead continues pumping resources into increasing remdesivir supply. The drugmaker expects to spend $1 billion to scale up manufacturing this year, and predicts it’ll make 2 million treatment courses in 2020. Gilead has shortened the drug's production timeline to six months, according to a Thursday statement.
After donating 1.5 million doses, Gilead priced the medicine at $3,120 per course for most U.S. patients. Analysts have said the drugmaker could see a multibillion-dollar windfall from the medicine.
Even with that price, Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day, has said Gilead believes “all patients will have access” thanks to government programs and company financial assistance. By enabling patients to leave hospitals sooner, the drug provides around $12,000 in healthcare savings per patient, O'Day argued. That doesn't factor in "direct benefits" to patients who recover more quickly.
But even as the company works to boost capacity, Gilead ran into pushback this week from dozens of state attorneys general, who wrote that the company has failed its public health responsibilities during the ongoing crisis. In a letter to federal officials, the AGs said the drug is too pricey and in short supply, and they asked the government to sidestep Gilead's patents to allow other drugmakers to sell the drug.
Gilead said the AGs misrepresented the facts, that their requests are "unauthorized under these circumstances" and that their suggestions wouldn’t deliver the drug to a larger number of patients.