Gilead draws early fire for new HIV med's $28K price

Gilead Sciences ($GILD) hardly had time to celebrate FDA's approval of its new HIV treatment Stribild, aka the Quad. The company announced Stribild's price tag--$28,500--and critics pounced. And not just AIDS activists and public health advocates, but business analysts, who figure a lower price might help Stribild better compete with a new wave of generic HIV pills.

That, after all, is Gilead's aim. The company developed Stribild to be a convenient, once-a-day treatment with fewer side effects--and to build up the $5 billion sales threatened by patent expirations expected to begin in 2018. As The New York Times points out, Stribild is a solo show for Gilead. It combines two new drugs and two previously approved drugs, all of which Gilead owns. Its other combo drugs Atripla and Complera include compounds owned by other drugmakers, so Gilead splits the income on those drugs--and won't have to with Stribild.

Analysts are predicting $2.5 billion in Stribild sales by 2015, and $4.7 billion at its peak. Some of that will come at the expense of Atripla, J.P. Morgan Chase's Geoffrey Meacham wrote in an investor note. But Stribild is expected to woo new patients, too, Deutsche Bank's Robyn Karnauskas told Bloomberg. She estimates that about 35% of new HIV patients will use the drug.

Complicating matters, however, is the ongoing criticism about Gilead's prices. Activist groups such as the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Doctors Without Borders have been lobbying the company for price breaks for years, so their censure on Stribild's price tag is hardly unexpected. But earlier this month, Democratic members of Congress joined in; they wrote Gilead with an advance protest against Stribild's pricing.

GlobalData brings up another point: Insurance reimbursement. Stribild's $28,500 sticker price is about one-third more than Atripla's. Will insurers--and budget-minded governments, as time goes on--be willing to pay extra for Stribild when "[t]he side effect profile is only marginally better than Atripla?" the research firm asks. A lower price, more in line with Atripla's, might help Gilead switch more patients to Stribild, to prepare for the coming onslaught of generics. It could also help defuse the other critics.

- read the Bloomberg story
- get more from the NYT

Related Articles:
FDA OK for HIV pill Quad sets up potential confrontation over Gilead's price
Lawmakers pressure Gilead on Quad price ahead of approval
FDA panel OKs Gilead's key HIV drug Quad

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