TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2016

AHF favors cheaper Hepatitis C treatment

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) praised a decision by Express Scripts Holding Co. on Monday to drop a higher priced Hepatitis C treatment in favor of AbbVie Inc.'s cheaper Viekira Pak treatment option.

Express Scripts is the largest pharmacy benefits manager in the U.S.

As of Jan. 1, more than 25 million patients with genotype 1 hepatitis C virus (HCV) who are covered by Express Scripts' services will have access to Viekira Pak, a multi-drug treatment that was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration. 

Express Scripts' drug formularly previously included Sovalid Gilead Science, Inc.'s Hepatitis C medication, which cost $84,000 for a 12-week treatment. The treatment also required the use of another drug ribavirin, which added to the cost of the treatment. 

The Gilead treatment is the most expensive treatment on the market. It was originally created by FiercePharma Pharmasset, which planned to charge $36,000 for the same 12-week course. When Gilead bought the company, it inflated the price of the treatment, which drew outrage and Congressional scrutiny.

AHF, which advocates for reasonable drug pricing, recently wrote letters to private insurers and Medicaid agencies to stop including the Gilead treatment in their drug formularies.

“The decision by Express Scripts to choose the Viekira Pak over Sovaldi demonstrates the limits of big pharma’s greed and arrogance,” Michael Weinstein, president of AHF, said. “Gilead wrongly believed they could get away with charging through the roof for Sovaldi and now their strategy has clearly backfired. With private insurers and taxpayers footing the bill for most of these life-saving treatments, it is now incumbent that the government and other companies follow suit in standing up to these attempts at public extortion.”

Consumers in most Western European countries pay between $51,000 and $66,000 for similar treatments.

Although Viekira Pak usually wholesales for $83,319, Express Scripts was able to negotiate the price down to closer to Western European market prices. 

“AbbVie's price is only slightly less outrageous but it might serve as a warning to other companies that market competition combined with public revulsion can restrain prices even when the government refuses to act,” Weinstein said.

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