$1,350-per-pill drug could flag rising US health care costs

This photo taken Thursday, July 9, 2015, is the headquarters of Gilead Sciences in Foster City, Calif. Harvoni, the newest pill from California-based Gilead Sciences, accounted for more than three-fourths of the prescriptions filled for hepatitis-C drugs in the first three months of this year, according to IMS Health. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The $1,000 pill for a liver-wasting viral infection that made headlines last year is no longer the favorite of patients and doctors. The new leading pill for hepatitis C is more expensive, and the number of patients seeking a cure has surged.

Sovaldi, last year’s wonder drug, has been pushed aside by a successor called Harvoni, made by the same company. The sticker price for Harvoni is $1,350 a pill.

The fast-paced changes in hepatitis C treatment are being watched closely amid fears that breakthrough drugs could reignite the rise of U.S. health care costs.

Other medications that could turn into cost drivers include a new treatment for melanoma and a cholesterol-lowering drug awaiting approval. More hepatitis C drugs are also headed to market.

Hepatitis C affects some 3 million people in the U.S. and claims more lives here than AIDS. With the new drugs, patients finally have a choice among highly effective cures with minimal side effects. Many patients couldn’t tolerate the side effects of previous treatments.

But newfound choice doesn’t seem to have led to widespread price competition.

“As a society we need a way of determining what is a reasonable price at the time of introduction of a new drug,” said Stephen Schondelmeyer, a University of Minnesota professor who specializes in pharmaceutical economics.

The number of prescriptions filled for hepatitis C drugs has more than doubled, from an average of 20,600 a month during the first three months of last year to a monthly average of 48,000 for the same period this year, according to IMS Health, which collects data on pharmacy prescriptions and sales.

Harvoni’s monthly sales crossing the $1-billion mark by January.

Copyright 2015 AP/WNCN. All rights reserved.

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