Fair Pricing Coalition Disappointed by the High Price of New Janssen Hepatitis C Drug Olysio (simeprevir)

The Fair Pricing Coalition (FPC) today expressed disappointment at the price Janssen Therapeutics set for Olysio (simeprevir), a second generation protease inhibitor (PI) approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on November 22, 2013 for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C (HCV) in genotype 1 patients.  Janssen has set the wholesale acquisition cost, (WAC) for a single 12-week course of Olysio at $66,360.  Though this is in parity with current HCV PIs, the FPC believes that all HCV drugs are priced too high. The WAC price of Olysio represents only part of the cost of an anti-HCV regimen, including at least $18,000 in WAC costs of interferon and ribavirin, plus the additional cost of the NS3 Q80K polymorphism screening test recommended by the FDA for all patients before initiating Olysio therapy.

“While we are very excited to have more effective and more tolerable treatment options for people living with hepatitis C, we are concerned about the overall cost of treatment,” said FPC HCV Co-Chair Lorren Sandt. “Janssen did price Olysio comparatively with other HCV PIs, but the bar previously had been set too high.  We strongly urged Janssen to price Olysio lower than current regimens to help address the overall cost of therapy, which continues to spiral out of control.”

The FPC is gravely concerned about the continued precedent this pricing has on the future of HCV therapy.  Industry experts have stated their expectations that Gilead Sciences’ new direct acting antiviral, sofosbuvir, will be approved by the FDA in the next few weeks.  While the cost of sofosbuvir is not yet known, patients and doctors may look to combine these therapies (off label), resulting in an expected doubling of the current price of therapy.

“We know that this is just the initial price,” said Sandt.  “Other HCV protease inhibitor manufacturers quickly increased prices after their initial 2011 launch. For example, a 12-week course of Vertex’s PI Incivek (telaprevir) had a WAC price of $49,000 at launch, but is now priced at $66,155.  We caution Janssen not to continue this unacceptable trend. Treatment is just too costly for the majority of people living with chronic HCV,” concluded Sandt, “and we fear that barriers to patient access will be inevitable as a result.”

Anticipating the price of Olysio, the FPC urged Janssen to expand their access programs to ease the fiscal challenges that patients will face when trying to purchase Olysio. The FPC acknowledges that the Johnson & Johnson Patient Assistance Foundation agreed to expand the eligibility criteria for Olysio from 200% to 500% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). While this is a step in the right direction, it is not as generous as the program Vertex established for their PI, which is a maximum household income of $100,000 per year. The FPC also applauds Janssen’s intent to initiate a $25,000 per course of treatment co-pay program for Olysio.  Unfortunately, the legal status of such programs for the Qualified Health Plans in the new Affordable Care Act Exchanges remains in question, possibly making Olysio access out of reach for many ACA patients.

“We thank Janssen for responding to our requests to increase the eligibility level of their PAP for Olysio and for developing a generous co-pay assistance program,” said Murray Penner, a member of the FPC.  “We know that co-insurance costs will be very high for patients.  Despite the access programs Janssen has in place, we are very concerned that the high price of Olysio, coupled with high co-insurance costs for patients, will result in limited access to Olysio.”