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Reuters Health Information: Senators ask Gilead to explain cost of Sovaldi hepatitis drug

Senators ask Gilead to explain cost of Sovaldi hepatitis drug

By Ransdell Pierson

(Reuters) - Two members of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, including Chairman Ron Wyden, on Friday asked Gilead Sciences Inc to defend the more than $80,000 cost of its breakthrough new treatment for hepatitis C, citing the expense to federal healthcare programs.

"Given the impact Sovaldi's cost will have on Medicare, Medicaid and other federal spending, we need a better understanding of how your company arrived at the price for this drug," the lawmakers said in a release. "It is unclear how Gilead set the price for Sovaldi."

The cost of Sovaldi (sufosbuvir) can soar to $168,000 in patients that need longer treatment periods, not including the costs of other drugs used with it, the senators said.

The criticism from the two senators follows complaints from private healthcare insurers about the price of the most potent new treatment for the dangerous liver disease, which affects more than 3 million Americans.

Gilead's pill, which cures patients more quickly than older drugs, and with fewer side effects, captured more than $2 billion in sales during its first full quarter on the market, a record for the drug industry.

The drugmaker has defended the price, saying Sovaldi reduces overall treatment costs for hepatitis C by lowering the number of required healthcare visits and sidestepping the need for other medicines that treat side effects of older therapies.

Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, and committee member Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, said in a letter to Gilead Chief Executive Officer John Martin that Sovaldi's cost could also dramatically increase the cost of caring for an estimated 1.8 million prisoners infected with the hepatitis C virus.

Gilead acquired Sovaldi in 2012 by paying more than $11 billion for Pharmasset Inc.

The senators said Pharmasset, before being acquired by Gilead, had expected to profitably sell the drug in the United States for $36,000, according to Securities and Exchange Commission documents.

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