Bioethics Blogs

Sovaldi, Harvoni, And Why It’s Different This Time

With the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s approval of Harvoni, the successor to Gilead Science’s Sovaldi, the alarm bells have officially rung on breakthrough hepatitis C treatments. One can’t open a newspaper or scan a Twitter feed without stumbling on at least one reference to either of the these two drugs for hepatitis C — an often debilitating viral infection impacting the liver that affects somewhere between 3 to 5 million Americans and several hundred million people worldwide. Hepatitis C infection is often asymptomatic and can have long latency periods. In up to 20 percent of people, chronic infection can lead to liver failure, liver cancer, and potentially liver transplantation.

Gilead Sciences paid $11 billion to acquire the rights to Sovaldi — a drug that offers significant improvement in viral clearance over existing therapies — and launched the drug in the U.S. market at a price ($1,000 per pill, or $84,000 per course of treatment) that is usually reserved for drugs targeting “orphan conditions” for much smaller populations. Not surprisingly, Congress has taken an interest, patient advocacy groups are organizing, the health care community is holding conferences, coalitions are channeling a growing national outrage about the price, and public and private payers are stymied by the challenge of responsibly managing utilization of the drug.

The growing concern about Sovaldi has so far been ineffective in influencing Gilead’s pricing strategies. Harvoni is expected to be more widely prescribed and comes with an even higher price tag than Sovaldi: $94,500 per 12-week treatment. Even though some patients will not need to take Harvoni for the full 12-week course, marginally lowering the price of a “cure,” the overall spending on these drugs will continue to be staggering.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.