Health and corrections officials in Louisiana are one step closer to treating thousands of hepatitis C patients who previously haven't had access to the latest drugs. The state chose Gilead Sciences’ new generics business, Asegua Therapeutics, to team up on its “Netflix” subscription model for unlimited access to an authorized Epclusa copycat.
Louisiana made the selection official on Tuesday and said it hopes to have a contract signed by June 1. The 5-year partnership would then start July 1. Louisiana wants to treat more than 10,000 hepatitis C patients on Medicaid and in the state's prisons by the end of 2020.
State officials say current payment systems don’t adequately fund the drugs needed to treat those patients. Last year, less than 3% of hepatitis C patients on Medicaid gained access to treatment, the state said.
By paying a fixed cost for the contract, the state will be able to accurately budget for its spending and prevent future spread of hepatitis C at the same time. For drug companies, the contract offers access to patient groups that aren’t served by traditional drug funding systems.
Gilead’s chief patient officer Gregg Alton said in a statement his company looks “forward to working on an agreement for this groundbreaking subscription model to increase access to a cure for people living with hepatitis C in Louisiana.”
Gilead won the deal over Merck and AbbVie, which each submitted bids for the state’s subscription model. Louisiana has been weighing the strategy since at least last year and rolled out a request for comments in August. Before that, the state explored treating hepatitis C patients with assistance from the federal government but opted not to go that route.
Now, Louisiana isn’t alone in pursuing the subscription strategy: Washington state is also proposing a “winner-take-all" contract for hepatitis C drugs. That state has said it plans to announce its partner in April.
For Gilead, the contract represents a new revenue stream in a field where it once made a fortune—but not anymore. Gilead's hepatitis C sales have plummeted, thanks to competition that ate into its market share and seriously curtailed its pricing power. The situation has grown so bad for Gilead that it took the unusual step of launching authorized generics to its own drugs in an effort to boost access and reach new patients.