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Japan bought 500,000 doses of COVID-19 med costing $2,700 per dose: ex-PM Suga

Former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government procured 500,000 doses of the antibody cocktail Ronapreve for COVID-19 treatment, which cost 310,000 yen (roughly $2,730) per dose, former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga divulged during an Oct. 12 internet program.

    The monoclonal neutralizing antibody medicine, used to treat coronavirus patients with mild or moderate symptoms, is supplied by Chugai Pharmaceutical Co. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the government's contract with the company contains non-disclosure clauses that deem the purchase price and quantity confidential.

    In the internet program on the night of Oct. 12, Suga emphasized progress on the vaccine rollout and the practical implementation of medication targeting COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms as achievements during his tenure as prime minister. Regarding Ronapreve, which was authorized for pharmaceutical manufacturing and sales in July, he said, "It actually costs 310,000 yen per dose. Although it's extremely expensive, it's very effective."

    The former prime minister also commented that although the government initially planned to procure 200,000 doses, he gave instructions to "buy as many as possible" and increased the amount to a total of 500,000 doses. According to simple arithmetic based on these remarks, the expenses for procuring Ronapreve total 155 billion yen, or about $1.37 billion.

    Ronapreve combines two neutralizing antibody drugs. It is administered once via an IV drip to coronavirus patients with mild or moderate symptoms that could develop into more serious cases. Antibody drugs are difficult to mass-produce, and many of those targeting patients with cancer or rare diseases cost between several hundred thousand to several million yen (several thousand to tens of thousands of dollars).

    Regarding Suga's remarks, a senior official of the health ministry said they have "no comment on either the price or quantity, as it falls under a non-disclosure agreement."

    (Japanese original by Itsuo Tokubo, Political News Department and Ai Yokota, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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