[Ip-health] Ed Silverman in the Wall Street Journal's Pharmalot: Senate Lawmaker Eyes Hearing on the Cost of Hepatitis C Treatments

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Tue Oct 21 02:31:19 PDT 2014


11:19 am ET
Oct 20, 2014
HEPATITIS C <http://blogs.wsj.com/pharmalot/category/hepatitis-c/>

Senate Lawmaker Eyes Hearing on the Cost of Hepatitis C Treatments

   - By

Responding to the ongoing controversy over the prices for new hepatitis C
treatments, U.S. Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) will probably hold a hearing
– possibly before the year ends – to examine how the cost is affecting the
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, according to his spokesman. Sanders is
chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

His interest in a hearing comes as the expense of these medicines helps
fuel a national debate over the rising cost of prescription drugs. New
hepatitis C treatments, in particular, have caused a ruckus, because they
promise cure rates exceeding 90%, which is prompting a sudden surge in
prescribing – and subsequent concerns over the effect on insurance budgets.

For the past several months, pharmacy benefit managers and state Medicaid
programs have complained that the cost of Sovaldi, a treatment sold by Gilead
<http://online.wsj.com/public/quotes/main.html?type=djn&symbol=GILD> GILD
may become unsustainable. Sovaldi costs $1,000 a pill, or $84,000, for a
12- week regimen. Gilead maintains the treatment is a cheaper alternative
to older forms of care that may be less successful and involve costly

Federal programs may feel the pinch, as well. A recent forecast from the
Veterans Department indicated that Sovaldi will cost the department about
$1.3 billion over the next two years. And that’s after a discount the VA
receives that brings the cost per pill down to about $543, according
to department
documents <http://freepdfhosting.com/47625cfd2e.pdf> provided earlier this
year to the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

A Veterans Affairs spokeswoman writes us that the department added Sovaldi
to its national formulary, or list of drugs for which coverage is provided,
last March. As of October 1, more than 5,300 veterans have received
treatment with Sovaldi, she writes, adding that about 225 patients are
started on the treatment each week.

And so, Sanders “is interested [in holding a hearing,] among other reasons,
because of the impact on the VA,” his spokesman tells us. The timing for a
hearing, however, remains uncertain. The spokesman says a hearing may occur
following the upcoming midterm elections on Nov. 4, “but it’s really up in
the air.”

This is not the first time Congress has responded to concerns over the cost
of hepatitis C medicines. Last July, two members of the U.S. Senate Finance
Committee asked Gilead to provide financial information
the $11 billion deal in which it acquired the treatment, R&D costs and
subsequent pricing forecasts. A committee spokesman tells us the probe
remains under way, but could not offer an update.

We asked Gilead, which has more recently received FDA approval to sell a
newer, fixed-dose combination treatment called Harvoni that includes
Sovaldi and another compound, for comment and will update you accordingly.
*[UPDATE*: A A Gilead spokeswoman later sent us this note: "We are not
aware of a hearing but we are cooperating with the Committee and responding
to their questions."*]*

This is the second time in recent weeks that Sanders has indicated concerns
about prescription drug costs. Earlier this month, he was one of two
members of Congress who launched an investigation
generic drugs and asked 14 drug makers to provide data on what was called
the “escalating prices they have been charging” for some medicines.

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