Among the most sensational and underreported stories so far this year is that Remdesivir earned more money from hospitals for treating COVID-19 in 2021 than any treatment for any other disease – despite the fact that it doesn’t work.

Vizient, the group that publishes this data, doesn’t disclose the actual dollar amounts, but rather a ranking of top drugs by sales from hospital reports. However, we know from publicly available data that Gilead earned a whopping $4.2 billion from sales of Remdesivir in the first nine months of 2021. This means hospitals probably spent over $5 billion dollars last year on a drug that is at best useless against Covid-19, and at worst dangerous to patients who receive it. And according to Vizient’s projections, hospitals could continue to blow out the spending on Remdesivir and keep it in the top spot through mid-2023.

In his article for RealClearMarkets, Dr. Pierre Kory provides a sober assessment of this blockbuster drug:

“Despite some initial indication that Remdesivir might slightly reduce recovery time, the World Health Organization conducted a large-scale analysis that found it “had little or no effect on hospitalized patients with COVID-19, as indicated by overall mortality, initiation of ventilation, and duration of hospital stay.” Unsurprisingly, the WHO recommended against using this drug to treat Covid-19 in November 2020 (and still does).

At worst, however, Remdesivir is harmful. A subsequent analysis of the agency’s safety database found it likely caused kidney failure, and when independent trials (those not sponsored by a pharmaceutical company) are analyzed alone, there is a clear statistical trend to harm. WHO also warns that the drug may be associated with an increased reporting of liver problems.”

All of this begs the obvious question: How is it possible that U.S. hospitals maxed out their spending on an ineffective and potentially dangerous drug that is scarcely used throughout the world?

Sadly, it’s because our drug approval system is broken – and has been for quite some time. During the pandemic, U.S. regulators have given speedy review and approval for expensive new drugs produced by our pharmaceutical industry, which have marginal benefit and may be dangerous. And they’ve ignored well-known, safe, cheap, generic drugs that in some cases have far more independent data supporting their clinical benefit against Covid-19.

Dr. Kory brings the receipts:

“Look at this chart created by an independent researcher that displays the efficacy of all drugs and compounds that have been studied against COVID-19. The ones circled in red are the only medicines that have received FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA is essentially fast-track approval) in the U.S. Each authorized medicine commands an exorbitant price while all the low-cost, effective drugs remain unauthorized for treatment of Covid-19. It would be an astonishing coincidence if the price tags were unrelated to their FDA status.

Moreover, Remdesivir was approved based on a single, small trial with questionable results. This should never be the basis for approving a medicine for mass use – even during a public health emergency. The same thing has happened with monoclonal antibodies, Pfizer and Merck’s antiviral pills, and, of course, the Covid-19 vaccines.

Even more troubling are reports that the FDA did not consult the Antimicrobial Drugs Advisory Committee in granting Remdesivir’s EUA. But the committee consists of outside experts that the FDA has at the ready precisely to weigh in on antiviral drug issues. It boggles the mind that the agency would authorize a drug without even consulting the very body that is supposed to advise it on such issues.