Gregg Alton has what seems like a disorienting job at Gilead Sciences Inc. He’s paid to figure out how to sell the drug Sovaldi, which infamously retails in the U.S. at $1,000 a pill, for relatively next to nothing.
The instructions for pricing the cure, which wipes out hepatitis C in just 12 weeks, basically go like this: “Get to as many patients as possible in low-income nations --and not lose money,” Alton says. “It’s very simple.”
Actually, it’s not so simple, but it is controversial. Decisions about what to charge around the world for life-saving remedies have spurred debate ever since Big Pharma began offering some discounts after a backlash in the ’90s, when groundbreaking HIV treatments reduced deaths in wealthy countries and not poor ones. Criticism has been harsh with Sovaldi, one of the most expensive and best-selling drugs in history.