Have we reached a tipping point for drug pricing yet? Seems close, at least, to a public consensus that pharmaceutical companies cannot set prices so high they shock the conscience. We have to weigh public health against private profits.
The attorney general of Massachusetts said on Wednesday that she had opened an inquiry into whether Gilead Sciences had violated state consumer protection laws by charging too much for its hepatitis C drugs.
The notification, which was contained in a letter to the company from the attorney general, Maura Healey, is the latest challenge to the practices of Gilead, which has become the largest and most profitable biotechnology company by dominating the market for drugs used to treat both H.I.V. and hepatitis C.
On Tuesday, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a nonprofit organization that treats patients with H.I.V. and AIDS, filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate patents covering the new version of Gilead’s mainstay H.I.V. drug, tenofovir. The lawsuit also says that Gilead, to maximize product life span but to the detriment of patients, delayed the introduction of the new, safer version of tenofovir until the old version was about to lose patent protection.
The hepatitis C drugs, Sovaldi and Harvoni, are widely considered breakthroughs — curing most patients in 12 weeks with few side effects. But Sovaldi has a list price of $1,000 per daily pill, or $84,000 for 12 weeks, and Harvoni costs $94,500. Those prices, and the great demand for the drugs, have strained the budgets of state Medicaid programs and prison systems, forcing many of them to restrict treatment to those most seriously ill.
In her letter to Gilead’s chief executive, John C. Martin, Ms. Healey said her office was examining whether Gilead’s pricing would be an “unfair trade practice,” in violation of Massachusetts law.
“Because Gilead’s drugs offer a cure for a serious and life-threatening infectious disease, pricing the treatment in a manner that effectively allows H.C.V. to continue spreading through vulnerable populations, as opposed to eradicating the disease altogether, results in massive public harm,” she wrote, referring to the hepatitis C virus by its initials.
One motivation for Ms. Healey’s letter was a class-action lawsuit filed against Massachusetts’ Department of Correction asking for more inmates to be treated for hepatitis C. Ms. Healey’s letter said that treating everyone at the list price of Sovaldi would “easily exceed our entire budget for prisoner health care.”
(click here to continue reading Gilead Faces Fights Over Hepatitis C and H.I.V. Drugs – The New York Times]
More to come on this topic, I assume…