Merck Sells COVID Pill to U.S. at $700 Per Treatment Course

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Oct. 12 2021, Published 1:22 p.m. ET

Pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. has entered the COVID-19 treatment arena as it requests emergency-use approval from the FDA. Naturally, people wonder how much the pill will cost.

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As patients take on tens of thousands (or more) in COVID-19 hospitalization debt, people are hopeful for alternatives that incur less financial risk.

Merck seeks emergency authorization in the U.S. for COVID-19 treatment pill

Merck (NYSE:MRK) announced on Oct. 11 that it's seeking emergency use authorization from the FDA for its pill molnupiravir. Made in partnership with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, the COVID-19 drug is an oral antiviral medicine for the treatment of early COVID-19 in at-risk adults.

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In a press release, Merck wrote, "At the interim analysis, molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by approximately 50 percent." Of the patients who received the pill, 7.3 percent were either hospitalized or died through day 29.

COVID-19 pill could fill a gap in countries without vaccine access

In the U.S., COVID-19 vaccines are readily available. However, there's still a large portion of unvaccinated individuals who have avoided the jab by choice. Meanwhile, many countries in the world have trouble accessing enough vaccines, which makes it difficult for populations that want the shots to get them. These areas are called vaccine deserts.

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Countries like Chad, Tanzania, Eritrea, and Burundi are vaccine deserts. Along with other countries, they're the last in line to receive vaccines. They fall victim to delays and shortages throughout the vaccine industry supply chain. This can cause new strains of the virus to come through, which could spread to other parts of the world.

If approved internationally, Merck's molnupiravir could help countries access treatment for COVID-19 despite limited access to vaccines.

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What will Merck charge for its COVID-19 pill?

Merck says it will price molnupiravir using World Bank economic data, which means different countries would pay different amounts. The price per pill in a certain country would depend on that nation's ability to pay. This global sliding scale pricing method isn't new for pharmaceutical companies.

Using this logic, vaccine deserts would pay far less for the Merck COVID-19 pill than the U.S. Pending FDA approval, the U.S. is expected to pay $700 per treatment course. That cost could change once it reaches the patient, but the federal government has already ordered 1.7 million treatment courses at that price.

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Looking at competitor pricing for COVID-19 drugs

Remdesivir, a monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19, costs $520 per vial or $3,120 per treatment course of six vials for patients with private insurance. For those without private insurance, one vial costs $390 and a treatment course costs $2,340. Granted, Remdesivir is an injection and not a pill, like Merck.

Another injectable, AstraZeneca's antibody cocktail, could supply 700,000 doses to the U.S. worth $726 million if the FDA approves it for emergency use. That means one dose costs nearly $1,040.

Merck's next steps will be to receive regulatory approval for its COVID-19 pill. Considering that the average COVID-19 hospital stay costs $17,000, many people just hope that treatment drugs could reduce the burden of medical debt.

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