Hop on the bus: AbbVie takes hepatitis C testing to veterans in co-campaign with American Legion

AbbVie and the American Legion are going on a cross country summer road tour to promote hepatitis C awareness and testing. (AbbVie)

With its new hepatitis C drug already on a roll, AbbVie is hitting the road this month to spur veterans toward hepatitis C testing in a cross-country bus tour with the American Legion. The idea? Testing is the only way to find patients needing treatment.

The “Take On Hep C” bus tour, created along with the American Legion, begins this weekend in South Dakota, taking off from the Sturgis Motorcycle rally.

Healthcare providers and Legion service officers on board the mobile veteran outreach center will offer free hepatitis C testing and same-day results, along with education about the disease and free help with Veterans Administration benefit claims. Other bus stops so far include Minnesota, Wisconsin and Florida. The tour will run through October.

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AbbVie’s hepatitis C treatment Mavyret has been a surprise hit this year, gaining significant steam against market share leader Gilead Sciences and its treatments Harvoni, Solvaldi and Epclusa. Mavyret revenue stunned in the first quarter at $919 million—249% growth year over year—blowing away analyst estimates of $572 million. Second-quarter results reported this week were similarly encouraging, with Mavyret sales jumping more than 100% to $973 million

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AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez said after the first-quarter report that, while its hep C business still lags Gilead's, it was closing in on the leader. AbbVie likely benefited in part from Merck’s decision last fall to stop development of new hep C drugs, although its treatment Zepatier will remain on the market—with a 60% price cut announced just last month. It’s the second go-round for AbbVie in hep C after its earlier combination drug Viekira Pak struggled to gain share against Gilead and Merck.

Mavyret was approved last August as the first pan-genotypic drug to treat all six major strains of hep C and work in just eight weeks. AbbVie undercut its rivals with a list price of just $26,400 for the full course. That forced Gilead, which once was hammered for its sticker price of $84,000-per-course for Sovaldi, to re-evaluate its own prices and discount them to fall in line with Mavyret.

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AbbVie has done some print and digital advertising for Mavyret to date, appealing to a largely baby boomer target audience with an “It’s Your Turn” theme.

In a press release, AbbVie and the American Legion noted hepatitis C education and testing are a priority for the veteran’s group because “it is one of the most significant health concerns facing veterans today.”

One in 20 veterans enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration have hep C, three times the general infection rate in the U.S., the group said.