Gilead investors spooked by UnitedHealthcare push to cut HIV drug costs

UnitedHealthcare unveiled a plan to reward patients for choosing a cheaper drug option. (UnitedHealth Group)

The ongoing war over drug prices has spawned numerous cost-saving initiatives from payers and the federal government, and now a new program from UnitedHealthcare has Gilead Sciences feeling the hurt.

Unveiled this week, UnitedHealthcare’s MyScriptRewards program will offer patients up to $500 in prepaid debit cards for medical expenses if they work with their doctors to choose lower-cost HIV drug regimens. The program is rolling out in HIV antivirals to start, with other specialty drug classes to follow.

Even though the insurer unveiled its program on Monday, the news was enough to scare Gilead Sciences investors on Wednesday. Shares sank 6%, MarketWatch notes. Gilead shares rebounded a little Thursday, climbing about 1.5% in morning trading.

Free Daily Newsletter

Like this story? Subscribe to FiercePharma!

Biopharma is a fast-growing world where big ideas come along daily. Our subscribers rely on FiercePharma as their must-read source for the latest news, analysis and data on drugs and the companies that make them. Sign up today to get pharma news and updates delivered to your inbox and read on the go.

The new program—which puts GSK and Merck drugs ahead of Gilead's in the cost-effectiveness parade—comes as Gilead's hepatitis C franchise remains in steep decline, making the company more dependent on growth in its HIV business and its newly launched CAR-T drug Yescarta. The third quarter did produce a glimmer of hope—particularly in HIV—but analysts remain skeptical that Gilead can keep up the pace.

RELATED: Gilead's HIV portfolio soars, but is it enough to combat falling HCV sales?

After getting an initial prescription for a lower-cost HIV drug option, patients are eligible for the first debit card of $250. If they continue using the cheaper regimen for six months, they can get a second $250 prepaid card.

UnitedHealthcare said regimens using Mylan's Cimduo and GlaxoSmithKline's Tivicayor Cimduo and Merck's Isentressare the "most cost-effective" treatments available through its formulary. Eligible patients can obtain them at no out-of-pocket cost.

RELATED: Trump targets 'global freeloading' with push to match cheaper overseas drug prices

The rollout comes amid a yearslong war between payers and pharma over climbing drug prices. And the Trump administration has stepped in lately, with plans to force lower Medicare Part B drug prices, among other objectives. The FDA is also approving a record number of generic drugs in another effort to lower costs, and HHS is pushing for drug prices in TV ads.

Suggested Articles

Celltrion Chairman Seo Jung-jin says the South Korean company will spend about $33 billion over a decade on its biologics and pharma businesses.

Purdue took a big hit when it settled with Oklahoma over claims it misleadingly advertised its powerful opioid, OxyContin. Now more states want in.

The new endorsement of Celgene's Revlimid from England's cost watchdog NICE may not help calm fears about BMS' $74 billion buyout.