For once, a new hepatitis C medication offers a far better prognosis for those suffering with this highly debilitating illness. Facing such a life-altering malady has proven to be as difficult financially as it is physically. And until now, even the very best drugs and their companion drugs have not had the kind of success that one new magic bullet offers. Well, that is to say, about 12 to 24 weeks of magic bullets.
The new drug, sofosbuvir, manufactured by Gilead Sciences Inc., costs a mere $1000 per pill. You read that correctly. We don’t mean $1000 per treatment or per week, or even per day. We mean $1000 per pill. With nearly four million people in the United States battling hepatitis C with little to no luck, it’s kind of hard to hear about a medication with a 90 percent cure rate that is completely out of reach. Hepatitis C patients and many others who are not infected with this life threatening disease are completely outraged by the per pill price set forth by Gilead. Most people feel that it isn’t just outrageously priced, it literally does no good if no one has access to it. If the drug cures 90 percent of those who receive it, but no one receives it because of its insanely prohibitive cost, what difference does it make? It’s like being forced to look at a huge chocolate cake without being able to eat it… oh, and eating the cake saves your life.
According to one of Gilead’s vice presidents, Gregg Alton, the price is totally reasonable. He bases his response on what he feels the drug would bring to the world of healthcare—without addressing the fact that the healthcare industry can’t push pills that insurance companies won’t pay for and that patients can’t afford. So essentially, sofosbuvir won’t be bringing anything to the table, except for frustration. Some people looking for a cure to hepatitis C (i.e. everyone with hepatitis C) may first wonder, “Well, how much is this company earning? Perhaps this price is fair based on their cost of production?” Wrong.
A researcher from the University of Liverpool’s Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics has done some homework, and is airing Gilead’s dirty laundry. According to this researcher, Andrew Hill, the company’s cost of production for an entire course of treatment (not per pill, but per treatment of 12 to 24 weeks) is likely somewhere around $200 to $400. So by charging the hepatitis sufferer anywhere from more than $80,000 to $160,000 per treatment represents a profit margin that needs to be calculated in scientific notation almost literally.
With all of this said and considered, if we strip away the thick layer of livid protestors, there may be some hope on the horizon. It is speculated that the reason Gilead is charging so much for sofosbuvir is that they spent loads of money researching and making it. With this in mind, it seems it would be reasonable to conclude that Gilead is trying to recoup its loses early on, and will later drop the price. But that isn’t really the way it will be panning out. Spokespersons for Gilead have offered up the view that the highly innovative new drug deserves to be rewarded for… essentially just being so awesome.
In a quote that almost just seems like dry humor ripped from a headline of The Onion, Gilead vice president Alton noted that he’s pretty sure Gilead will be able to lower the price to the high hundreds. Until then, Alton promises us that courses of the treatment will soon be ever so slightly lower in India and Pakistan. Some silver linings are a tad thinner than others.
Please feel free to contact Ella Gray with any questions or concerns at [email protected]