Gilead launches generics of own hepatitis C drugs in US to cut health costs

Gilead Sciences

Gilead is to launch cheaper generic versions of its hepatitis C drugs in the US, responding to calls for lower drug prices because of spiralling healthcare costs.

The California pharma’s hepatitis C bought in sales of $831 million in the quarter ended in June – but revenues are shrinking overall as more and more people get cured, and competition from rivals such as AbbVie becomes more intense.

Gilead said it will launch the drug through a newly created subsidiary, Asegua Therapeutics.

The low cost versions of Epclusa (sofosbuvir+velpatasvir) and Harvoni (ledipasvir+sofosbuvir) will launch in January.

The most common course of therapy will be available at a list price of $24,000. Compare this with Harvoni, which costs around $94,500 at full price for a 12-week course.

However, Gilead noted that since the launch of its first hepatitis C drug Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) in 2013, the average price paid per bottle in the US has decreased by more than 60% off of the public list prices, across health insurers and government payers.

But the company noted that due to the complexities of the US healthcare system this has not always translated into lower costs for patients.

The pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts described the move as a “step in the right direction.”

Simply lowering the list price of already-marketed drugs can be problematic as pharmacies and wholesalers have inventories of drugs at high prices that they would have to sell for less.

Pricing deals may already be in place for 2018 and 2019 based on existing arrangements, the company added.

Launching a new authorised generic may get around some of these issues by allowing pharmacy benefit managers to supply the original high cost drug with a rebate, and gradually moving over to the cheaper version before eventually retiring the original high-cost product.

[caption id="attachment_30028" align="alignnone" width="93"] John Milligan[/caption]

Gilead’s president and CEO John Milligan said: “Launching these authorised generics is the best solution available to us today to quickly introduce a lower-priced alternative to our HCV medications without significant disruption to the healthcare system and our business.”