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Lawmakers: Why is that drug so expensive?

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(Bloomberg) – House Democrats want to know how Gilead Sciences Inc. set the $84,000 price for a standard course of treatment with Solvadi, a new hepatitis C drug.

The lawmakers also asked Gilead Chief Executive Officer John Martin to explain what is being done to make sure the medicine gets into the hands of low-income patients, especially in government-run health programs.

“Our concern is that a treatment will not cure patients if they cannot afford it,” Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., wrote in a letter to Martin. The lawmakers asked Gilead to brief Congress by April 3.

The drugmaker said it will meet with Waxman and the other members of Congress.

“We had heard the concerns raised in the letter and had reached out to a number of members of Congress prior to this letter to address those concerns,” Gilead said in a statement. “We have been working with a number of stakeholders, including federal and state officials, to share the scientific and medical evidence.”

Gilead’s drug was approved last year as a breakthrough treatment for viral liver infection. The medicine offers higher cure rates and fewer side effects than older treatments.

The high cost of the drug has attracted scrutiny and resistance from insurers and public health advocates.

“This letter is a ‘bank shot’ that gets things going, with the goal of getting Gilead to significantly lower the price of Sovaldi,” Terry Haines, a senior political strategist with ISI Group LLC, said in a note to clients.

The letter may be a starting point in a campaign to pressure Foster City, California-based Gilead and encourage Republicans and senators of both parties to join the effort, Haines said.

Because the Democrats are in the minority in the House of Representatives, the impact of their effort may be minimal, said Justin Simon, an analyst with Height Securities L.L.C. in Washington. “This is unlikely to affect the price of any currently marketed and priced products,” he said.

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