France pegs Gilead hepatitis C drug at "lowest price in Europe"

PARIS, Nov 20 (Reuters) - France has negotiated a big discount for Gilead Sciences Inc’s controversial new hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, under a government deal that ensures it will be fully reimbursable by health-funding schemes.

The Economic Committee for Health Products (CEPS) has fixed the price of a box of Sovaldi at 13,667 euros before tax, a reduction of 5,000 euros on the original price and “the lowest price in Europe”, the Health Ministry said on Thursday.

Twelve weeks of treatment will now cost 41,000 euros ($51,373) before tax, against 56,000 euros previously.

In the United States, where Sovaldi’s high price has sparked controversy and pushed up insurance companies’ costs, a 12-week course costs $84,000, or $1,000 per pill.

Some 200,000 people in France have hepatitis C and the total cost of treatment to the national health fund is 800 million euros a year.

Sovaldi has racked up record sales despite a fierce debate over its price and concerns that high demand will place a huge burden on government-run health plans and private insurers.

Last month, U.S. regulators approved the sale of a new hepatitis C pill from Gilead, called Harvoni, which will cost $94,500 for an improved 12-week course of treatment to rid patients of the liver-destroying viral infection.

Harvoni has just won temporary approval for sale in France at 16,000 euros a box but negotiations are taking place with the French government aiming for a lower price. ($1 = 0.7981 euro) (Reporting by Gregory Blachier; Writing by Mark John and Ben Hirschler; Editing by Hugh Lawson)