Woonsocket-based pharmacy giant CVS has signed a deal with drug maker Gilead to offer its hepatitis C drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni, exclusively, for treating hepatitis C.
The deal covers patients enrolled in drug benefit plans managed by CVS. And the news comes on the heels of AbbVie's announcement of a deal with CVS competitor Express Scripts, which will offer AbbVie's hepatitis C treatment, Viekira Pak, exclusively.
The driving force behind the escalating competition between Gilead and its rival AbbVie is the anticipated huge market for these drugs. An estimated five million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis C. Many have been waiting for a cure, and have been avoiding the older, much more uncomfortable and much less effective treatment, interferon.
Sovaldi and Harvoni cost about $1000 a pill, with a full course of Harvoni retailing for $94,000. The deal with CVS is big business for Gilead, considering the size of CVS' pharmacy benefits management business. Sovaldi has to be taken in combination with another expensive drug, ribavirin. Harvoni is a single pill, once a day. AbbVie's Viekira Pak is multiple pills several times a day.
One would think both CVS and AbbVie scored nice discounts on both drugs, but neither company is disclosing that information. When I asked, here's what CVS spokeswoman Christine Cramer told me in an email last night:
"CVS/caremark has completed a thorough evaluation of the existing and new hepatitis C therapies that are now available in the marketplace. As a result of that evaluation, effective January 7, 2015, Harvoni and Sovaldi – manufactured by Gilead Sciences Inc. – will be exclusive on the CVS/caremark Standard Commercial, Exchange (Marketplace), Medicare Part D and Medicaid formularies.
Our goal was to create the lowest net-cost solution for the entire population of patients with all genotypes of Hepatitis C. When making this decision, we evaluated a wide variety of factors including duration of therapy, relative distribution of genotype and cost of the individual agents in the category as well as the results of a comprehensive clinical review of the different hepatitis C regimens.
We believe this strategy meets patient needs while delivering excellent value and clinical options to both clients and plan members."
So the big question is: will this competition bring down prices for new hepatitis C drugs? Difficult to say, because no one is disclosing the amount of the discount. Some predict a price war, but have we seen it yet? Nope. Regardless, they're still going to be expensive. And if your drug plan isn't a part of one that's negotiated a discount, you'll still be paying top prices. Whatever your insurance covers, I've been hearing about steep co-pays. That's often the case with so-called specialty drugs like these, but especially with hep C drugs.
Some more context: It's inauguration day for Gina Raimondo. She will have her work cut out for her figuring out how to pay for these drugs for the thousands of Rhode Islanders on Medicaid who could benefit from taking them. The latest estimate is that hep C drugs will cost the state $50 million dollars.