News Feature | January 29, 2014

Gilead's $1,000-A-Pill Hepatitis C Drug Receives Criticism from Payers

Source: Pharmaceutical Online

By Estel Grace Masangkay

About 20 protesters gathered outside a hotel ballroom in San Francisco to voice their criticism against Gilead’s $1,000 per pill hepatitis C treatment Sovaldi. A 12-week treatment   of Sovaldi will cost payers a total of $84,000.

The sky-high price of breakthrough treatments such as Sovaldi will cause insurers to reconsider coverage of expensive treatments which may lead to patients being forced to use less effective, cheaper therapies, say protesters. Catamaran Chief Medical Officer Sumit Dutta told Bloomberg, “You can’t manage exclusively by the techniques PBMs [pharmacy benefit managers] have used in the past... We’re seeing the shift, where payers are finally going to say, ‘It’s $84,000, and the other therapy is $50,000 -- what am I getting?’” Catamaran is the fourth largest U.S. PBM.

Gilead Chief Operating Officer John Milligan told Bloomberg in answer to criticisms that current Sovaldi treatments are still cheaper compared to standard treatment of hepatitis C complications. These include liver damage or failure and eventual organ transplants. Milligan said it will take the company five to six months to formalize coverage with both payers and PBMs. Sovaldi’s regimen price could increase to up to $100,000 or more per year when the drug is eventually used in combination with a second drug the company is studying.

Other pharmaceutical giants are eyeing a piece of the competition. Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) has announced it is developing its own line of hepatitis C drugs that will be released in the market soon after Sovaldi’s first-to-market treatment launch. BMS chief financial officer Charles Bancroft said in an interview at the JPMorgan conference, “The Gilead product, the efficacy is at the highest level... All of them are good enough, though. What will eventually happen is that pricing will become more acute. What you’ve seen in diabetes may happen more rapidly.”

Orlando Chavez, one of the protesters, said, “I’m glad people have the new drugs, but I’m concerned about the prices.”