Novartis to pay Gilenya patients' bills

Novartis isn't taking any chances when it comes to making its new multiple sclerosis drug Gilenya a success. The company will pay out-of-pocket costs for patients who use the drug--up to $800 a month. And the drugmaker will foot the bill--up to $600--for clinical testing and monitoring the FDA required as part of the product's approval.

True, the pill will be priced at $4,000 per month, so $800 in co-pays isn't as much as it sounds, at least not for Novartis. For a patient, however, that's a lot of money. And Novartis isn't limiting the financial aid to patients who meet income requirements (although all treatment costs are covered for patients who earn less than 500 percent of poverty levels).

By taking on those payments, Novartis will remove one big potential barrier to new Gilenya scrips. And by paying for up-front diagnostics, it's taking care of another hurdle. "It's a pretty aggressive approach," industry analyst Ira Loss tells Bloomberg.

The Swiss drugmaker isn't the first company to support an expensive drug by helping patients meet their co-pays. Indeed, so many drugmakers have used the technique to woo patients onto expensive drugs that insurers have started to complain. So far, insurers such as WellPoint and UnitedHealth are backing Gilenya, though they are putting the drug on the top tier of their formularies.

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