Merck’s (NYSE:MRK) oral drug molnupiravir (MK-4482) could be a COVID-19 game-changer, assuming it wins emergency use authorization.
The medicine could also be lucrative for Merck, assuming it finds widespread use.
Costing $712 for a treatment course, according to a contract obtained by Knowledge Ecology International, molnupiravir’s retail cost would be almost 40 times more than its production cost. It takes about $17.74 to produce a five-day course of the drug, according to an estimate from a pricing analysis from the Harvard School of Public Health and King’s College Hospital in London.
Knowledge Ecology International obtained the contract via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit targeting the HHS and the Army regarding U.S. government COVID-19 contracts.
Merck did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its pricing plans related to the drug.
In initial contracts with the U.S., the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has a price tag of $19.50 per dose, while the Moderna’s costs about $15 per dose and Janssen’s around $10.
Despite the pandemic pricing, COVID-19 vaccines have been lucrative for Pfizer and Moderna.
Pfizer has stated in an earnings statement that the profit margin on the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is in the high twenty-percent range. The company expects 2021 revenues for the vaccine to hit $33.5 billion.
Moderna expects product sales to exceed $20 billion. The firm SOMO estimated that the profit margin on the Moderna vaccine is 44%.
Molnapiravir’s roots trace back to 2013, when researchers considered its potential as an oral treatment for encephalitic New World alphavirus VEEV (Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus), according to Current Opinions in Virology.
Then known as EIDD-2801, the drug also appeared to be effective against influenza.
Researchers at Emory University first discovered the drug as part of its Drug Innovation Ventures at Emory (DRIVE) program. DRIVE members later hooked up with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics to test the drug in humans in the early days of the pandemic.
By mid-2020, Merck had announced it was working with Ridgeback to develop the drug.
A statement from June 2020 stressed that “Merck and Ridgeback are committed to ensure that any medicines developed for SARS-CoV-2 will be accessible and affordable globally.”
Filed Under: Infectious Disease