It is rare when a single drug entirely revolutionizes the treatment of a disease. Yet, Gilead s Sovaldi did just this, following its FDA approval in late 2013.
Sovaldi set the stage for the eradication of hepatitis C, a disease that infects about 170 million people worldwide four times that of HIV.
Sovaldi became the first $1,000 pill $84,000 for a full twelve-week course which set off the usual rhetoric about evil pharmaceutical companies bankrupting Americans. But the debate was quite different this time.
ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom, a long time HCV researcher, and the author of an op-ed about the value of Sovaldi said, The dialogue was quite different this time. People always complain about high drug prices, and sometimes their criticism is justified. Especially relating to cancer drugs that can cost well over $100,000 per course, and sometimes offer little or no benefit.
He continues, This debate is very different. Sovaldi is expensive, but in this case, it is worth it. The previous treatment for HCV infection pegylated interferon plus ribavirin (PegIFN) was almost intolerable, worked about half the time, and wasn t even that much less expensive. Solvadi was such a huge advance that insurance companies really had no choice. They had to cover it.
And if results from phase III trials of a combination of Sovaldi and ACH-3102, an experimental drug that was developed by Achillion hold up, it seems that not only will treatments be better, they will require only half the treatment time a previously unheard of six weeks. This is half that of Sovaldi, as well as Gilead s second generation HCV treatment, Harvoni, which was approved in 2014, and is priced in the $90,000 range. Harvoni has cure rates approaching 100 percent, but still requires a 12-week course.
Will the Gilead/Achillion combo be less costly assuming that it is approved since it will only require 42 pills instead of 84? wonders Dr. Bloom. If this new combo is priced in the $90,000 range, I m going to be rather disappointed in them.
(Note: There are now multiple therapies for HCV, either on the market, or closeby. The competition alone should drive down prices.)
The table below will give you a rough comparison of the IFN and Harvoni treatments: