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Nebraska AG joins letter urging use of legal authority to increase availability of COVID-19 drug
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Nebraska AG joins letter urging use of legal authority to increase availability of COVID-19 drug

From the Milestones in Nebraska's coronavirus fight series
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Nebraska's attorney general Tuesday joined a bipartisan, multistate coalition in urging the U.S. government to use its legal authority to increase the availability of remdesivir, an antiviral drug used to treat COVID-19.

The drug, manufactured by Gilead Sciences Inc., has shown promising results in reducing mortality and hospitalization, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson

In a letter signed by Doug Peterson and attorneys general of 30 other states, plus American Samoa, Guam and the District of Columbia, they say despite millions of dollars in federal funding, Gilead has been "unable to assure a supply of remdesivir sufficient to alleviate the health and safety needs of the country amid this pandemic."

As of Tuesday, more than 4.75 million Americans have contracted COVID-19 and 156,000 have died.

Yet, by the end of this year, Gilead is expected to produce only 2 million treatments, or enough remdesivir to cover about half of the current confirmed COVID-19 patients in the U.S., the attorneys general said in the letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health and the FDA.

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Before this crisis is over and a vaccine made available, they said, many more Americans may become sick, and their recovery may hinge on the availability and affordability of remdesivir.

In the letter, the coalition led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry urged the federal government to exercise its rights under the Bayh-Dole Act, which involves patents that come from federal government-funded research, to ensure drug manufacturers can meet the market demand and that Americans can afford to buy it.

Despite a cost of between $1 and $5 to make the drug, Gilead has set the price at an "outrageous and unconscionable" $3,200 per treatment course, they said.

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"Gilead should not profit from the pandemic and it should be pushed to do more to help more people," the state AGs said in the letter.

Under the act, the NIH and FDA have the authority to license remdesivir to other manufacturers to scale up production and distribution and ensure the drug is made available to all those in need at a reasonable price, the attorneys general said.

If not, they asked the agencies to assign the authority to the states to use.

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"The bipartisan coalition stands ready to ensure that drug manufacturers are licensed to meet market demand during this public health crisis," they said.

The coalition also urged the government agencies to use their legal authority under the Defense Production Act "to put the weight of the federal government behind a rapid scaling up of remdesivir production and distribution."

In a statement June 29, Gilead Chairman and CEO Daniel O'Day said, "As with many other aspects of this pandemic, we are in uncharted territory in pricing remdesivir."

In normal circumstances, he said, it would price a medicine according to the value it provides. In this case, it could mean four fewer days to recover, or a hospital savings of $12,000 per patient, without factoring in the direct benefit to those patients who may have a shorter stay in the hospital.

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"Ultimately, we were guided by the need to do things differently. As the world continues to reel from the human, social and economic impact of this pandemic, we believe that pricing remdesivir well below value is the right and responsible thing to do," O'Day said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger

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Public safety reporter

Lori Pilger is a Norfolk native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been a public safety reporter for the Journal Star since 2005.

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