After stalling for months, NHS England pledges £190M for new hep C treatments

Gilead Sciences ($GILD) and AbbVie ($ABBV) are quick to tout the efficacy of their hep C meds, citing impressive cure rates and data to appease disgruntled payers, patients and healthcare programs unhappy with the drugs' high price tags. Now, those numbers have helped the drugmakers score a win in the U.K. as the country's National Health Service (NHS) will spend £190 million ($294 million) for new treatments for the disease.

As PharmaTimes reports, about 3,500 hepatitis C patients in England and Wales with cirrhosis will gain access by year's end to AbbVie's Viekirax, a three-drug combo sold in the U.S. as Viekira Pak, and Exviera (dasabuvir), and Gilead's Sovaldi and Harvoni.

Cost-effectiveness gatekeepers at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) had already backed Sovaldi for certain hep C genotypes in February, but NHS England postponed adopting it widely because of the cost. NICE gave its thumbs-up to Harvoni in March.

"(F)inally, the sickest HCV patients will have a chance to access these highly efficacious, curative therapies that are generally well tolerated," Charles Gore, chief executive of the Hepatitis C Trust, said in a statement.

The latest move comes a little more than a year after NHS England agreed to shell out £18.7 million ($28 million) to fund Gilead's $84,000-per-treatment-course Sovaldi for patients with the most advanced forms of the disease, following efforts from the Hepatitis C Trust to secure early access to the drug.

Gilead and AbbVie are facing their fair share of payer hurdles with the drugs in the U.S., where insurers and lawmakers are pushing back at sky-high prices with demands for discounts. In December, Express Scripts ($ESRX) struck an exclusive pact with AbbVie to cover the drugmaker's $83,320 Viekira Pak in exchange for a "significant" discount, setting off a hep C pricing war. Gilead struck pack with a few deals of its own, including one with Express Scripts' biggest rival CVS Health ($CVS).

Meanwhile, AbbVie and Gilead are defending their treatments' high price tags by pointing to potential benefits further down the line. The meds could prevent future costs and complications including hospitalizations, transplants, and liver cancer, the drugmakers say. But some payers are still restricting access to the drugs and insurers are limiting treatment, with only the sickest patients in the U.S. gaining access to the meds under certain plans.

- read the PharmaTimes story

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