(Adds background on Sovaldi, rival drugs)
By Ransdell Pierson
July 11 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 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."
Sovaldi's cost 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.
Gilead acquired Sovaldi (sufosbuvir) in 2012 by paying more
than $11 billion for Pharmasset Inc. The deal began to bear
fruit after Sovaldi produced stellar results in late-stage
clinical trials and was approved by U.S. regulators late last
The nucleotide analog inhibitor, or "nuke," blocks a protein
needed by the hepatitis C virus to replicate. Other companies,
including Merck & Co, are developing their own nukes and
other new types of hepatitis C treatments.
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 $2.3 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 price could
also dramatically increase the cost of caring for an estimated
1.8 million prisoners infected with the hepatitis C virus.
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
(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson in New York; Editing by Lisa Von