Express Scripts Says AbbVie (ABBV)'s Drug Could Displace Gilead Sciences, Inc. (GILD)'s Sovaldi On Formulary

Express Scripts Says AbbVie (ABBV)'s Drug Could Displace Gilead Sciences, Inc. (GILD)'s Sovaldi On Formulary

By Riley McDermid, Breaking News Staff 

The price war between dueling hepatitis C drugs added another skirmish Thursday, after pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts Holding Co said it will likely change its standard formula to a new, cheaper unnamed AbbVie (ABBV) product instead of choosing Gilead Science (GILD)’s pricey Harvoni or Sovaldi treatments. "The cost of [Sovaldi] is unsustainable for many of our plans," Steve Miller, chief medical officer of Express Scripts, told analysts late Wednesday. The company is the largest U.S. pharmacy benefit manager and also runs large mail order pharmacies. AbbVie is hoping to have its new treatment approved by American drug regulators later this year.

Express Scripts pointed out that many public health programs like Medicaid and state prison systems currently foot the bill for the $94,500 price tag of Sovaldi, which has a cure rate of around 90 percent. Because the poor and incarcerated are more likely to suffer from the debilitating liver disease, that high cost can affect them disproportionately, said Miller. 

"(We) are hoping [AbbVie will] take a different approach when it comes to pricing," Miller said.

In addition, AbbVie’s new product is also considered more convenient, because it combines three drugs into a single, once-a-day pill. In contrast, Sovaldi and Harvoni sometimes have multiple stages of treatment, and cost $94,500 and $84,000 per course—or around $1,000 per pill.

Chicago-based AbbVie’s new pill would also not need to be combined with the sometimes-toxic drug interferon.

Express Scripts spokesman Brian Henry told Reuters that the Gilead drugs could be removed entirely from its formulary if the AbbVie drug can be shown to be as effective at treating hepatitis C.
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117,000 hepatitis C patients receive Sovaldi so far

117,000 hepatitis C patients receive Sovaldi so far

Breakthrough drug has made $8.5bn for Gilead this year

Gilead Sciences' blockbuster hepatitis C drug Sovaldi has been used in around 117,000 people since its launch at the end of last year, said the company in its latest financial report.

Sovaldi (sofosbuvir), which allows patients to be treated without the need for weekly injectable interferon, has been the most lucrative pharma launch of all time, and has recorded revenues of $8.5bn in the first nine months of 2014 and $2.8bn for the three-month period between July and September.

This uptake has been despite criticism from some corners of the US unhappy with the drug's high price – around $84,000 per standard course of treatment – with senators asking Gilead to justify the cost of Sovaldi.

Around 70% of US state Medicaid programmes have implemented controls on Sovaldi prescribing - including prior authorisation requirements based on disease severity - amid warnings that some healthcare systems may buckle under the strain of providing the drug.

Nevertheless the massive revenues so far put Sovaldi way ahead of Gilead's second biggest selling medicine Atripla, a combination of several HIV treatments. The drug made $2.5bn for the first nine months of the year and just under $900m over the third quarter, both slightly down on the same periods last year.

The huge boost from Sovaldi saw Gilead's total revenues rocket from $8.1bn for the first nine months of 2013 to $17.5bn for the same period in 2014.

Net income was also up, with Gilead taking $8.6bn for the first nine months of 2014 compared to $2.3bn a year previous.

Company revenues should continue to grow with the upcoming launch of Harvoni, a combination of Sovaldi and other hepatitis C treatment ledipasvir.

The drug was recommended for use in Europe at the end of September and approved in the US a couple of weeks later and expectations are high, with trial data demonstrating the drug can cure as many as 90% of patients within just eight weeks.