Massachusetts Attorney General considering legal action against Gilead over drug prices

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has informed Gilead Sciences that the prices for its hepatitis C therapies Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) and Harvoni (ledipasvir/sofosbuvir) could violate state law. In a letter directed to the drugmaker, Healey remarked "I write to encourage you to reconsider Gilead's pricing structure for Sovaldi and that we may actually see this infectious disease eradicated in the United States in our lifetime," noting that the attorney general's office will "continue to examine this potential claim for unfair commercial conduct."

Sovaldi was priced at $84 000 for a 12-week course of treatment in the US following its approval by the FDA in 2013. Harvoni, which was cleared by the agency in October 2014, was later launched at a price of $94 500 for a course of treatment.

Healey estimated that if Massachusetts purchased Sovaldi at its list price for all people with hepatitis C in the state's prisons, the expenditure would "easily exceed" the entire budget for prisoner health care. The attorney general's office noted that although no state-level review had been initiated, the pricing of Harvoni and Sovaldi was significantly impacting state budgets across the country because Medicaid recipients comprise a significant portion of patients who would benefit from the drugs.

Meanwhile, Gilead indicated that it has requested a meeting with Healey to discuss the matter. "We agree with the Attorney General about the importance of helping all [hepatitis C] patients — and that the advent of safe, effective regimens means we can now consider the possibility of eradicating the disease," the drugmaker commented.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Michael Yee suggested that the move against Gilead was more "political rhetoric". "Since when is it a crime to have cured a global epidemic afflicting millions of patients, and the price is the same as the older drugs, which had less cure and bad side effects?" Yee remarked. Meanwhile, Healy noted "patients do not benefit from a drug they cannot afford," adding that Sovaldi was priced at roughly $10 per tablet in Egypt compared to $1 000 per tablet in the US.

Last month, a US senate report concluded that Gilead priced Harvoni and Sovaldi with the goal of maximising revenue instead of fostering access. Previously, US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton unveiled a plan aimed at combatting price gouging for specialty drugs.

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