by Tom Murphy
The US government will pay drugmaker Pfizer $5.29 billion for 10 million treatment courses of its potential COVID-19 treatment if regulators authorize it, the country’s largest purchase agreement for a coronavirus therapy.
Pfizer on Tuesday asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorize emergency use of the experimental pill, which has been shown to significantly cut the rate of hospitalizations and deaths among people with coronavirus infection.
The FDA is already reviewing a competing pill from Merck and will hold a public meeting on it later this month.
Potential treatment from Pfizer costs about $529 per course. The US has already agreed to pay about $700 per course of Merck’s drug for about 3.1 million treatments.
Pfizer said Thursday that the price being paid by the US government reflects the higher number of treatment courses it will buy by 2022.
President Joe Biden said in a statement that his administration is taking steps to ensure that treatment will be “easily accessible and free.”
“This treatment could prove to be another important tool in our arsenal that will accelerate our path through the pandemic,” Biden said. Vaccines are the strongest tool to protect against viruses.
Pfizer has begun making submissions for approval in several other countries and has advanced purchase agreements with other governments as well.
Pfizer on Tuesday signed a deal with the United Nations-backed group to allow generic drug makers to produce low-cost versions of the pill for some countries. Merck has a similar deal for its pill, which was approved in the UK earlier this month.
Pfizer reported earlier this month that its pill cut hospitalizations and deaths by 89% in high-risk adults who had early symptoms of COVID-19.
The company studied its pill on people who were not vaccinated and faced the worst exposure to the virus because of age or health problems, such as obesity.
Pfizer wants the drug to be available to adults who have mild to moderate COVID-19 infection and are at risk of becoming seriously ill. This is exactly the way other drugs are currently used to treat the disease.
But all FDA-authorized COVID-19 treatments require an IV or injection given by a health professional in a hospital or clinic.
Possible treatment for Pfizer is taken twice a day for five days, in combination with a second antiviral pill that enhances its effect.
Pfizer has booked more than $24 billion in global revenue so far this year from Comirnati, its COVID-19 vaccine, which has quickly become the drugmaker’s best-selling product.
Shares of New York-based Pfizer Inc climbed less than 2% at the opening bell on Thursday. He hit an all-time high of $51.86 this summer, which stood for the past 22 years.
Pfizer and Merck are seeking approval for their treatments as COVID-19 cases resume in the US
The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases neared 87,000 on Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. This is up from around 68,000 at the end of last month.
AP Health writer Matthew Perrone contributed to this report from Washington, D.C. Murphy reported from Indianapolis.
This story has been updated to correct that the US government has agreed to buy 3.1 million courses of Merck’s drug, not 1.7 million.