By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger
Johnson & Johnson’s hepatitis C virus (HCV) drug Olysio (simeprevir) reached blockbuster status during the second quarter, clocking about $1.2 billion in sales for the first six months of the year (Sheridan, 2014).
This article from 2014, ominously entitled, “In evolving HCV market, Johnson & Johnson’s Olysio is a blockbuster, for the moment,” a staff writer for BioWorld – a site that provides “actionable intelligence on the most innovative drug development science…” – essentially foretold Olysio’s doom.
The groundbreaking drug first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2013 was meant to serve as a companion drug to Gilead’s Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) for the treatment of HCV, Olysio was quickly became the odd man out, in terms of treatment regimens. With a Wholesale Acquisition Cost (WAC) of $66,360 for twelve weeks of treatment, Olysio’s use in combination with Sovaldi (WAC – $84,000) had patients and payors looking at a combined cost of $150,360 to cure HCV in 12 twelve weeks. Unsurprisingly, payors balked at this price point, and instead recommended Sovaldi in combination with the much cheaper ribavirin, with a WAC of between $550-$850 for twelve weeks of treatment. It may not have been as easily tolerated as Olysio, but damn it – it was exponentially cheaper.
By the end of 2014, Gilead had gone the extra step to push Olysio into obsolescence by releasing their breakthrough combination therapy, Harvoni (ledipasvir-sofosbuvir) at a WAC of $94,500. This single-pill regimen could be used in most patients without a ribavirin booster, and proved much easier to swallow, despite the high price point.
And then, came Viekira Pak…
And then, came Daklinza…
And then, came Technivie, Zepatier, Epclusa, Viekira XR, Vosevi, and Mavyret…
In just a few years, Janssen might as well have not even entered into the HCV market. In 2017, the company announced that it was exiting the market. And then, in May of this year (2018), Janssen pulled the plug on Olysio, altogether. Effective May 25th, 2018, Olysio became unavailable in all markets. Janssen reasoned that the availability of [cheaper] pangenotpyic drugs to treat and cure HCV had made Olysio’s presence on the market untenable.
Then, in June 2018, AbbVie – makers of Viekira Pak, Technivie, Viekira XR, and Mavyret – quietly pulled the plugs on both Technivie and Viekira XR. Neither of these drugs really got off the ground and were essentially rendered obsolete within a year or two by Mavyret, which is far cheaper and a better product. Both of these drugs will become unavailable on January 01, 2019.
These won’t be the last casualties of the HCV, either. Some Medicaid programs are playing an interesting game, at the moment, when it comes to contracted drugs for treatment. Hawaii’s Medicaid program, Med-QUEST, operates using five different Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) – AlohaCare, HMSA, Kaiser Permanente, ‘Ohana Health Plan, and United Healthcare Community Plan. AlohoCare, from June to August pared their Preferred Drug coverage for HCV treatment to only Harvoni, Zepatier, and Epclusa – a strange move considering all three drugs are more expensive than AbbVie’s Mavyret.
I say “strange,” because nearly every other Medicaid program in the U.S. has shifted to Mavyret as their preferred drug, with Epclusa and Zepatier straggling along behind. In fact, the other four MCOs that service Med-QUEST have all reduced their coverage to include only Mavyret. AlohaCare is unique amongst the other MCOs in that it is a non-profit organization wholly local to Hawaii, whereas the other MCOs are backed by large national insurers – BlueCross/BlueShield, Kaiser Permanente, WellCare, and United Healthcare. That a local non-profit would reduce its coverage of HCV to exclude the cheapest drug on the market is, again, strange.
While I cannot definitively say that there’s anything nefarious afoot, my guess is that Gilead has cut a deal with AlohaCare to offer Harvoni and Epclusa at much lower prices than Mavyret. How low? Well, we aren’t legally allowed to see those prices, because of existing trade secrets laws.
I anticipate that Daklinza will be the next drug on the chopping block, but that’s just speculation.
- Sheridan, C. (2014). In evolving HCV market, Johnson & Johnson’s Olysio is a blockbuster, for the moment. Irving, TX: BioWorld. Retrieved from: http://www.bioworld.com/content/evolving-hcv-market-johnson-johnsons-olysio-blockbuster-moment-0
Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.