A low-dose steroid treatment has been proven to reduce mortality rate in COVID-19 patients, and was just approved for use in the U.K. It costs about $6 per patient.
Economist Jonathan Gruber told Boston Public Radio on Wednesday generic drugs like this could be repurposed to immediately help fight the novel coronavirus as we wait for a vaccine to be developed, but there’s little incentive in America for drug companies to do so.
“There’s some low hanging fruit out there in taking existing, safe, tried drugs that are generic, and using them to attack this disease,” he said. “The problem with that is, there’s not as much money to be made, so a lot of the drug companies aren’t putting efforts in on that.”
Gruber said there would need to be support from the federal government, and proposed a plan through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).
Gruber acknowledged that early talks of adapting the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients weren’t outlandish, and that his colleagues have identified “at least 40 possible” generic drugs that could be repurposed.
“It wasn’t implausible that hydroxychloroquine could work, that wasn’t implausible, it’s just the discussion ran a head of the evidence,” he said.
President Donald Trump touted the drug as a treatment, despite mounting evidence that it is ineffective in both treating and preventing COVID-19. Its emergency use authorization has since been revoked by the FDA.
Jonathan Gruber is Ford Professor of Economics at MIT. He worked on the Massachusetts healthcare reform and the Affordable Care Act. His latest book is “Jump-Starting America: How Breakthrough Science Can Revive Economic Growth and the American Dream.”