Reuters Health Information: Gilead put profit ahead of hepatitis C patients -U.S. Senate report
Gilead put profit ahead of hepatitis C patients -U.S. Senate report
Last Updated: 2015-12-01
By Bill Berkrot
(Reuters) - U.S. state Medicaid programs spent $1.3 billion
before rebates in 2014 on Gilead Sciences' new hepatitis C drugs
to treat fewer than 2.4% of enrollees with the liver disease,
according to a U.S. Senate investigation into pricing of the
In the latest salvo against high U.S. prices for important
medicines, the 18-month Senate Finance Committee investigation
into the cost of Gilead's Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) and follow-on
combination treatment Harvoni (ledipasvir/sofosbuvir) accused
the company of putting maximizing revenue ahead of patient
The vast majority of the more than 700,000 people on state
Medicaid programs for the poor with hepatitis C are still
awaiting treatment, the probe found.
"It was always Gilead's plan to maximize revenue, and
affordability and accessibility was an afterthought," Senator
Ron Wyden, Democrat from Oregon, said at a news conference to
announce the findings along with Iowa Republican Senator Chuck
The senators said Sovaldi and Harvoni prices did not reflect
the cost of research and development or the $11 billion Gilead
paid for Pharmasset to acquire the drugs, but purely a desire to
Sovaldi was introduced at a list price of $84,000 for a
course of treatment, or about $1,000 per pill, creating a furor
over its cost. The Gilead drugs represent a vast improvement
over prior treatments that had far lower cure rates and many
troublesome side effects.
While those older treatments were also expensive, they did
not cause a similar burden on healthcare budgets as thousands of
patients put off treatment while waiting for improved new drugs
that promised a cure.
"If Gilead's approach to pricing is the future of how
blockbuster drugs are launched, it will cost billions and
billions of dollars to treat just a fraction of patients," said
Wyden, the Finance Committee's ranking member.
As an example, the report said Indiana's Medicaid program
spent $40 million to treat 462 people.
In 2014 alone, Medicare and Medicaid combined to spend more
than $5 billion on Sovaldi and Harvoni before rebates, the probe
Gilead, in a statement, said it respectfully disagrees with
the conclusions of the report.
"With the rebates and discounts now in place, the prices
today are less than the cost of prior regimens," the company
said, noting that its treatments reduce the long-term costs
associated with managing chronic hepatitis C, such as by
preventing liver failure or the need for transplants.
The high price of U.S. prescription medicines has become a
major issue in the campaign for the November 2016 presidential
election, with Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie
Sanders and Martin O'Malley calling for changes to limit costs
"If America is to cure Alzheimer's, cancer, diabetes and HIV
in the years ahead, these cures must not be unaffordable and
beyond the reach of most Americans," Wyden said.
Some newer cancer treatments cost $150,000 or more a year.