Prepping for spendy launches, pharma execs take a hint from Gilead's pricing fight

As payers continue to flex their drug-pricing muscles, it's more important for drugmakers to land on their good sides--especially as companies prepare to roll pricey treatments onto the market. And pharma execs are taking note.

Biogen ($BIIB), Amgen ($AMGN) and others are working hard to make sure their in-development drugs don't rock the boat when they finally win approval, Bloomberg reports. Insurer talks are getting started while products are still in the clinic, and the brouhaha over Gilead Sciences' ($GILD) hep C pricing has changed the conversation, companies say.

Biogen CEO George Scangos

Upfront talks are especially important for companies like Biogen, whose BIIB037 Alzheimer's candidate could be taken for a lifetime if it proves successful. The strain it could cause on the healthcare system makes a $10,000-a-month price tag out of the question, company chief George Scangos said last week at a conference.

"If we are not thoughtful about it, it will make Sovaldi"--Gilead's new-age hep C star that outraged payers and with its $84,000 cost--"look like a blip," he said, as quoted by the news service.

And Express Scripts ($ESRX) CMO Steve Miller, a vocal price critic who touched off a hep C discount war by inking an exclusive deal with Gilead rival AbbVie ($ABBV), has said he's ready to take his tactics to other fields--putting next-gen cholesterol drug developers such as Amgen on notice. Like Biogen's therapy, patients could take the cholesterol meds--called PCSK9 inhibitors--for life, and they may bear list prices between $7,000 to $12,000, Bloomberg notes.

So the California company has reached out, and while its Repatha is still a ways away from the market, Amgen has already had "a number of dialogues with payers," global and commercial operations EVP Tony Hooper said early this year.

Other companies have tried to brace payers for the blow of their new launches, too, though not necessarily as directly. On an investor conference call in February, Vertex ($VRTX) Chief Commercial Officer Stuart Arbuckle said his company--which expects a green light this year for a cystic fibrosis combo that could cost payers $367,000 per year with medical and pharmacy costs included--was "investing in disease education to help payers estimate the number of eligible patients they may have in their plans."

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