(Bloomberg) — An influential advisory panel of doctors and health experts will for the first time address the cost-effectiveness of pricey hepatitis C drugs in updated guidelines that may change prescribing and coverage for the medicines.
The 30-member panel is a joint effort by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and the Infectious Diseases Society of America, which together represent more than 10,000 physicians, health workers and scientists. The guidelines are used by doctors for expertise on how to treat patients and by insurers and governments in setting policy.
Health insurers and government programs have been grappling with the cost of the pills. Made by Gilead Sciences Inc. (Nasdaq:GILD) and AbbVie Inc. (Nasdaq:ABBV), they offer higher cure rates and fewer side effects than older medicines, though their $1,000-a-day price tag has generated criticism.
“The panel will explicitly consider cost and cost-effectiveness,” Benjamin Linas, a member of the group and a doctor at Boston Medical Center, said in an e-mail Thursday.
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Since last year, Gilead and AbbVie have been engaged in a back-and-forth price war, offering discounts to health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers in return for access to their patients or exclusive arrangements. The result has been deep price cuts — Gilead said it will discount its drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni by 46 percent this year, on average.
Gilead shares declined less than 1 percent to $103.53 and AbbVie shares were down less than 1 percent to $60.50 at the close in New York.
With more than 3 million Americans living with hepatitis C, health payers face a challenge to afford treatments like Harvoni, which can cost $94,500 for a 12-week course. Harvoni and Sovaldi are projected by analysts to sell $16 billion in 2019.
With discounts, AbbVie’s and Gilead’s drugs are more cost-effective, which should make payers more willing to treat all hepatitis C patients, said Steve Miller, chief medical officer at Express Scripts Holding Co., the biggest U.S. pharmacy benefits manager.
“What we’re recommending to our plan sponsors is that we treat everyone,” Miller said in a telephone interview. “As a physician, the idea that you have a curative therapy that is now affordable and that you would want to wait until people have end-organ damage just doesn’t make clinical sense.”
Cara Miller, a Gilead spokeswoman, declined to comment. A spokeswoman for AbbVie didn’t respond to a request for comment on the guidelines.