Senators ask Gilead to explain cost of Sovaldi hepatitis drug

July 11 Fri Jul 11, 2014 10:20am EDT

July 11 (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 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. (Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)