Fair Pricing Coalition Condemns Gilead Sciences on the High Price of New Hepatitis C Drug Sovaldi™, and Urges Rapid and Wide Dissemination of Support Program Details for Uninsured and Underinsured People Living with Hepatitis C

The Fair Pricing Coalition (FPC) today condemned Gilead Sciences for the price set for its direct acting antiviral (DAA) Sovaldi™ (sofosbuvir), a once-daily, first-in-class nucleotide polymerase inhibitor approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on December 6, 2013, for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C, including those co-infected with HIV. While FPC believes that all hepatitis C virus (HCV) drugs are priced too high, the coalition of HIV and viral hepatitis treatment activists is especially dismayed by the wholesale acquisition cost (WAC) of $84,000 for a 12-week course of Sovaldi™. For comparison purposes, the FPC notes the 12-week WAC for the recently approved NS3/4A protease inhibitor Olysio™ (simeprevir) is $66,360.

“Sovaldi™ is a very safe and highly effective drug that will significantly shorten HCV therapy and either reduce or eliminate the need for injected pegylated interferon,” explained FPC Co-Chair Lynda Dee. “However, this does not give Gilead unconscionable pricing carte blanche, particularly when considering that Sovaldi™ still needs to be combined with ribavirin for the treatment of HCV genotype 2 for 12 weeks or genotype 3 for 24 weeks. Twelve weeks of therapy with Sovaldi™ plus both pegylated interferon and ribavirin is required for the treatment of HCV genotype 1, the most common genotype in the US, and HCV genotype 4.”

The WAC for 12 weeks of HCV treatment with pegylated interferon and ribavirin is approximately $9,000, resulting in a combined WAC of $93,000 for a Sovaldi™-inclusive regimen to effectively treat a single person living with HCV genotypes 1 or 4. To treat HCV genotype 3, 24 weeks of Sovaldi™ plus ribavirin is required, resulting in a Sovaldi™ WAC of $168,000.

Price Portends an Ominous Future

“Gilead has set the bar dangerously high as other companies determine prices for similar hepatitis C drugs as they enter the market,” Dee said. The effectiveness of Sovaldi™ as a component of future pegylated interferon-free regimens for the treatment of HCV will ultimately depend on co-administration with other DAAs currently in development, and are anticipated to come with their own high price tags.

“Sovaldi™ is expected to transform the curative landscape for hundreds of thousands of people living with hepatitis C in the U.S. who require therapy or responded poorly to previous treatment,” said Lorren Sandt, FPC Co-Chair. “Yet the high price will result in significant barriers to treatment access, particularly in limited and fixed-budget programs, such as Medicare and state Medicaid programs, AIDS Drug Assistance Programs, the Veterans Administration, and in correctional systems.”

The high price may also lead to access challenges imposed by private insurance plans and Qualified Health Plans in the new Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplaces, notably those with high co-payment and other out-of-pocket requirements.

“There may be reluctance to add Sovaldi™ to formularies quickly and payers may force people living with HCV to engage in step therapy in which they are first required to try less expensive options that are less effective,” Sandt added. “These options take longer to complete and are associated with serious side effects, which present a serious impediment to adherence and, ultimately, to being cured of hepatitis C.”

Concessions Where They Count

Although Gilead refused FPC’s demand for fair pricing of Sovaldi™, the company has agreed to all FPC requests for concessions regarding Sovaldi™ access programs. These include:

The SupportPath™ (www.mysupportpath.com) patient assistance program (PAP), with a $100,000 maximum income allowance for a household of three and 500% of the federal poverty level (FPL) eligibility criteria for larger households.

  • The SupportPath™ Sovaldi™ co-pay coupon program will provide co-pay assistance for eligible patients with private insurance, including ACA Marketplace exchange patients, who need assistance paying for out-of-pocket medication costs. Most patients will pay no more than $5 per co-pay. Co-pay assistance of up to 20% ($16,000) of the WAC price for Sovaldi™ can also be applied toward prescription deductibles and co-insurance obligations.
  • Gilead has made a contribution to the Patient Access Network (PAN) for co-pay assistance for Medicare Part D clients.
  • Gilead has initiated an emergency Sovaldi™ supply program for patients that may lose their prescriptions.
  • Gilead has agreed to ensure access to its PAP and co-pay assistance programs for AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) patients who are co-infected with HIV, even in states with ADAP programs that will not include Sovaldi™ on their formularies.

The FPC urges Gilead to widely disseminate the details of its SupportPath™ PAP and co-pay coupon program, which must include providing written SupportPath™ information for prescribers, prominently featured SupportPath™ information in its professional and direct-to-consumer advertisements, and clear links to www.mysupportpath.com via the Gilead and Sovaldi™ websites.

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.”