Initial sales of Sovaldi (sofosbuvir), Gilead’s new drug for the treatment of hepatitis C virus infection (HCV), set a sales record in its first quarter on the market in the United States. In fact, Sovalidi outpaced the sales of any other drug in its class, netting $2.1 billion in revenue—or approximately $25 million per day. Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ HCV drug Incivek (telaprevir) held the previous record, with $1.56 billion in its first full year on the US market
The list price for Sovaldi is $1000 per pill, and about $84,000 for the full course of treatment. When prescribed, the drug—a once-daily pill—has a high cure rate, and presents fewer side effects than other medications. The treatment course is also much shorter than other available HCV treatments.
While the record-setting sales and benefits of the medication have boosted Gilead’s revenue, health advocates worry what the medication’s high cost will mean for patients. As well, some insurers like UnitedHealth Group have reported a decline in first quarter earnings because of the costs they face when paying for the drug.
Providers are also preemptively attempting to curb the out-of-pocket costs for patients by selectively choosing to whom they prescribe the drug.
“We are telling folks to wait for a while on less urgent cases,” said William Golden, MD, MACP, medical director of Arkansas Medicaid.
But as evidence of the drug’s benefits mounts, and as patient demand for the medication increases, it may be more difficult to for providers to be so selective.
“By the end of this year, it will be very hard to make a case for waiting,” said Sharon Levine, MD, a Kaiser Permanente (KP) executive. She added that if KP were to treat all of its members with HCV with the drug in 1 year, it would double the total drug budget for all of its 9 million members.
John F. Milligan, chief operating officer of Gilead, defended Sovaldi’s high costs.
“The value of a cure, I tend to think, is underestimated in terms of the overall advantage that the healthcare system receives from it,” he said.
Around the Web
Gilead Revenue Soars on Hepatitis C Drug [The New York Times]