[Ip-health] Gilead’s new price hikes on HIV drugs anger AIDS activists

Jamie Love james.love at keionline.org
Thu Jul 7 14:57:27 PDT 2016


Gilead’s new price hikes on HIV drugs anger AIDS activists

By ED SILVERMAN @Pharmalot
JULY 5, 2016

As part of a strategy to switch patients to newer HIV treatments, Gilead
Sciences late last week raised prices on a pair of older HIV medications
that face patent expiration. This sort of maneuver is often found in the
pharmaceutical playbook, but is triggering still more criticism by AIDS
activists of its overall pricing strategies.

Here’s what Gilead did: the company raised the wholesale acquisition cost,
or list price, for the two older medicines — Complera and Stribild — by 7
percent, to $2,508 and $3,469 a month, respectively. This follows price
hikes of 7 percent and 5 percent last January, which Cowen analyst Phil
Nadeau noted is a deviation from the typical annual price hikes that Gilead
takes on its HIV drugs.

Meanwhile, Gilead left intact prices for two much newer versions of these
drugs — Odefsey and Genvoya – which remain priced at $2,346 and $2,578 per
month. Nadeau, who first reported the changes in an investor note, pointed
out that Odefsey is now priced at a premium to Complera, while the
difference between Stribild and Genvoya has widened. A Gilead spokeswoman
confirmed the new prices.

By boosting prices for the older HIV treatments twice in just six months,
Gilead is clearly hoping that doctors will prescribe its newer drugs. And
physicians have an added impetus for doing so: the newest Gilead
medications are more potent and studies have indicated they are likely to
cause fewer side effects.

Gilead hikes price of HIV therapies, other drugs by up to 10 percent

This is because the older treatments contain a compound called tenofovir,
or TDF, which until recently had been a cornerstone of the combination HIV
treatments sold by Gilead. But the patent on TDF expires in December 2017
and Gilead is replacing it with a modified version known as TAF. The patent
on TAF doesn’t expire until May 2022, and the added years of exclusive
marketing is very valuable.

However, even though TAF is more potent and is less likely to cause bone
damage and kidney toxicity, AIDS activists argue Gilead knew of these
differences, but deliberately delayed testing TAF in humans for several
years in order to extend patent protection for as long as possible on the
best-selling older drugs. The allegations, which Gilead has denied,
surfaced in a lawsuit filed earlier this year.

The most recent round of price hikes has angered AIDS activists, who say
the higher prices reflect indifference to the ability of payers to absorb
higher drug costs. Gilead already has been skewered over the cost of its
very effective hepatitis C medicines. A US Senate investigation last winter
claimed the company put profits ahead of patients, since payers complained
the prices overwhelmed their budgets.

“This sort of behavior from Gilead, alas, is not surprising,” said James
Krellenstein, a member of ACT UP New York. “As we saw with their practices
in the development of TAF and the pricing of (Sovaldi, the first hepatitis
C medicine that Gilead began selling in early 2014), patient choice and
safety takes a back seat when it comes to the company’s bottom line.”

Moreover, the older drugs are still considered highly effective and safe
for many people living with HIV, according to Tim Horn, HIV project
director of the Treatment Action Group and a member of the Fair Pricing
Coalition, two other activist organizations.

“With both public and private payers seriously struggling under the weight
of drug price increases that are seriously out of lockstep with rates of
inflation in the US — burdens that are ultimately felt by every American —
the move should be to lower drug prices to provide a competitive edge,” he
said. “Gilead, instead, is choosing to position TAF products in the most
artificial and unflattering light possible, by inflating the costs of their
older competitors.”

FDA approves a Gilead pill that is first to treat all forms of hepatitis C
And the AIDS Healthcare Foundation believes the price hike is a good reason
to push to invalidate Gilead patents. The non-profit, which operates 46
health centers in the US for which it purchases many medicines, filed a
lawsuit earlier this year seeking to have the TAF patents invalidated. “The
small savings from the cheaper new drugs pales in comparison to how cheap
they would be if they went generic,” said AHF president Michael Weinstein
in a statement.

A Gilead spokeswoman wrote us that the price hikes will not affect a price
freeze the company offered state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs in 2008 and
extended through this year. She added that about half of all patients
taking Gilead’s HIV drugs receive them through federal programs at deeply
discounted prices, although she did not provide figures. And the company,
she said, continues to invest in HIV R&D.

Investors, meanwhile, are likely to view the price hikes favorably. As
Nadeau wrote, the higher prices “ensure (the) durability of the HIV
franchise,” which he estimated will generate $12 billion in sales this
year, and such moves reinforce the “sustainability” of revenues more than
investors appreciate, given ongoing controversy over hepatitis C drug costs.

This story was updated to include a comment from the AIDS Healthcare

Ed Silverman can be reached at ed.silverman at statnews.com
Follow Ed on Twitter @Pharmalot

James Love.  Knowledge Ecology International
KEI DC tel: +1.202.332.2670, US Mobile: +1.202.361.3040, Geneva Mobile:
+41.76.413.6584, twitter.com/jamie_love

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