U.S. Will Foot Bill for People to Get Pfizer COVID Treatment in $5.29 Billion Deal

The U.S. government has agreed to purchase 10 million courses of pharmaceutical company Pfizer's COVID-19 treatment for Americans in a $5.29 deal, the Associated Press reported.

Though the U.S. has already agreed to buy 3.1 million courses of a competing treatment created by Merck, the Pfizer deal is the country's biggest purchase agreement for a COVID therapy yet.

In a statement released Thursday, President Joe Biden said though Pfizer's treatment has yet to be approved by regulators, the administration was working to make sure that the pills "will be easily accessible and free" to Americans.

"This is positive news. This treatment could prove to be another critical tool in our arsenal that will accelerate our path out of the pandemic," Biden said, adding that delivery of the treatments would begin at the end of the year and continue through 2022.

Pfizer's treatment was shown in trials to vastly reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths among people infected with the virus, AP reported. Pfizer asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Tuesday to grant emergency use authorization for the treatment.

The FDA is in the process of reviewing Merck's pill ahead of a public meeting on the treatment later in November. If approved, Pfizer's treatment would cost roughly $529 per course, while the U.S. is set to pay about $700 per course of the 3.1 million treatments, according to AP.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Pfizer COVID Treatment
The U.S. government has agreed to pay $5.29 to pharmaceutical company Pfizer for 10 million courses of its COVID-19 treatment pills, which are awaiting approval by the Food and Drug Administration. The COVID-19 pills are seen in this image provided by Pfizer. Pfizer via AP

Pfizer said Thursday the price being paid by the U.S. government reflects the high number of treatment courses purchased through 2022.

Pfizer has started rolling submissions for approval in several other countries and there are advanced purchase agreements with other governments as well.

On Tuesday, Pfizer signed a deal a with U.N.-backed group to allow generic drugmakers to produce low-cost versions of the pill for certain countries. Merck has a similar deal for its pill, which was authorized in Britain earlier this month.

Pfizer reported earlier this month that its pill cut hospitalizations and deaths by 89 percent among high-risk adults who had early symptoms of COVID-19.

The company studied its pill in people who were unvaccinated and faced the worst risks from the virus due to age or health problems, such as obesity.

Pfizer wants the drug available for adults who have mild-to-moderate COVID-19 infections and are at risk of becoming seriously ill. That's similar to how 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 at a hospital or clinic.

Pfizer's potential treatment is taken twice a day for five days, in combination with a second antiviral pill that boosts its effect.

Pfizer has already booked more than $24 billion in global revenue so far this year from Comirnaty, its COVID-19 vaccine, which has quickly become the drugmaker's top-selling product.

Shares of New York-based Pfizer Inc. climbed less than 2 percent at the opening bell Thursday. They hit an all-time high of $51.86 this summer, topping a previous mark that had stood for 22 years.

Pfizer and Merck are seeking approval for their treatments as COVID-19 cases start to rebound again in the U.S.

The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases approached 87,000 on Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That's up from around 68,000 late last month.

Pfizer COVID Pill
Pfizer’s COVID-19 treatment was shown in trials to vastly reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths among people infected with the virus. The Pfizer company logo is seen at a production plant in Puurs, Belgium, on December 23, 2020. Jonas Roosens/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images