One of the leading developers of COVID-19 vaccines has now been placed in the ranks of people like Martin Shkreli—the disgraced pharmaceutical executive infamous for jacking up the price of an old, life-saving drug by more than 5,000 percent. He is now serving an 84-month prison sentence from a 2017 conviction on fraud counts unrelated to the drug pricing.
Moderna, maker of one of only two vaccines granted emergency authorizations to prevent COVID-19 in the US, has been shamed with a 2020 “Shkreli Award” by the Lown Institute, a healthcare think tank. The awards, announced annually for four years now, go to “perpetrators of the ten most egregious examples of profiteering and dysfunction in health care.”
Award judges cited Moderna’s pricing of its COVID-19 vaccine, which was developed with $1 billion in federal funding. Still, despite the tax-payer backing, Moderna set the estimated prices for its vaccine significantly higher than other vaccine developers.
In August, the company set the estimated price range of $32 to $37 per dose, making the two-dose regimen $64 to $74 per person. At the time, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its partner BioNTech—which now have the other US-authorized COVID-19 vaccine—had inked a deal with the US government to supply doses at $19.50 each, for a two-dose regimen of $39 per person. Notably, Pfizer and BioNTech developed their vaccine without any federal funding. Also, Johnson & Johnson had a deal to supply the US government with doses of its vaccine—still in the works—at a rate of $10 per dose.
In November, amid criticism, Moderna reportedly lowered its estimated cost to range in price from $25 to $37 per dose. And, in the end, it signed a deal with the US government to provide the vaccine at a price of $15 per dose, or $30 for a two-dose regimen per person.
Still, the Lown Institute’s judges wrote that, “given the upfront investment by the US government, we are essentially paying for the vaccine twice.”
Award judge Deborah Blum added, “This is so blatantly greedy from a company that has no track record in producing vaccines and built its current one with taxpayer help.” Blum is a Pulitzer Prize winning science journalist and director of the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Moderna made another appearance on the award list. Judges noted that Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, CEO of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a member of Moderna’s board, penned an op-ed in February defending high drug prices. Nabel did not disclose her role at Moderna in the op-ed. She also faced questions of conflicts-of-interest after Brigham and Women’s Hospital was selected as a trial site for Moderna’s vaccine.
Award judges noted that Nabel had received $487,500 in Moderna stock options and other payments in 2019 and sold $8.5 million worth of Moderna stock in 2020 after the company’s stock nearly quadrupled amid fanfare around its COVID-19 vaccine. Nabel resigned from Moderna’s board amid criticism in July.
Moderna did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment.