MSF: COVID-19 test maker Cepheid’s price announcement falls short

Eswatini 2011 © Pierre-Yves Bernard/MSF

NEW YORK/GENEVA, MAY 7, 2021—US diagnostics corporation Cepheid, which produces the GeneXpert testing machines that run COVID-19 tests—along with tuberculosis (TB), HIV, hepatitis C, and other tests—has announced it will reduce the price of its new 10-color IV-4 GeneXpert machines from $19,000 to $15,800. It also announced that it will offer countries buying machines “100 COVID-19 tests for free.” Similar bundled price reductions for the larger XVI GeneXpert machines and COVID-19 and TB tests have also been announced.

While Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) acknowledges the reduced price for the newest GeneXpert machines, this is not what countries need. These commitments will do very little to help get people tested for COVID-19 and end the pandemic while boosting Cepheid’s profits. The corporation’s annual revenue has already doubled during the pandemic, reaching over $2 billion, largely from the sale of COVID-19 tests. Reducing the price of the testing machines is a meaningless concession if countries cannot afford the COVID-19 tests to run on the machines. Additionally, the 100 free COVID-19 tests offered with the IV machine—which is most frequently used—is merely a fraction of what is needed in countries.

MSF, together with Treatment Action Group (TAG) and more than 140 other civil society organizations, sent open letters on February 24 and April 1 to express concerns about the devastating impact of Cepheid overcharging low- and middle-income countries for COVID-19 tests, and to ask for a significant and immediate price reduction of the tests. Cepheid has set the price for each COVID-19 test at $19.80, which is at least 400 percent more than it costs the corporation to produce the test, based on MSF’s analysis of the cost of manufacturing Cepheid’s similar TB and HIV tests. The analysis shows that the corporation could still make a profit by selling each test for $5 or less.

This price reduction by Cepheid for its newest class of testing machines does not meet the needs of countries in this pandemic. Although many countries have invested in Cepheid’s machines throughout the last decade for TB, HIV, and other diseases, they now cannot access the COVID-19 tests to run on the same machines because of Cepheid’s unaffordable pricing, as recently reported by Reuters. MSF calls again on Cepheid to reduce the price of the COVID-19 test and all other GeneXpert tests to no more than $5 each. It is unacceptable that Cepheid sells the COVID-19 tests to low- and middle-income countries at a price that’s more than four times higher than it costs to produce the test.

Stijn Deborggraeve, diagnostics advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign, said of the announcement:

“Cepheid’s announcement is another sign that the corporation is not actually willing to make a real commitment to increasing access to affordable tests in low- and middle-income countries.

“Cepheid is prioritizing its profits over people’s lives.

“Cepheid’s price ‘reduction’ is not a meaningful reduction, but rather appears to be a way to promote their newer testing devices.

“The COVID-19 pandemic should not be used by Cepheid to profiteer by charging low- and middle-income countries over four times the price it costs to produce the COVID-19 tests.

“It’s high time for Cepheid to do what’s right and immediately provide countries with real price reductions for the COVID-19 test so more tests can be run and more people can be diagnosed as the pandemic continues to rage across many parts of the globe.”