Study: Gilead's Harvoni could save U.S. and Europe billions in worker productivity

Gilead Sciences ($GILD) has faced its fair share of scrutiny for the pricing of its next-gen hep C meds, defending the drugs' hefty price tags by pointing to long-term benefits--including cost savings. Now the company has a new swath of research to bolster its argument: A recent study shows that investing in new hep C therapies could save the U.S. and Europe billions of dollars in lost productivity.

Dr. Zobair Younossi, chairman of the department of medicine at Inova Fairfax Medical Campus, and his colleagues looked at survey responses from more than 1,900 hepatitis C patients treated with Gilead's combo pill Harvoni (ledipasvir and sofosbuvir) in a clinical trial to see how the treatment affected patients' ability to work. The team then compared the responses to data on older treatments for hep C such as interferon and ribavirin, which come with side effects such as fatigue, depression and lowered blood cell counts.

Scientists found that patients treated with Harvoni showed up more to work and were more productive when they did, potentially saving the U.S. $2.6 billion a year and 5 leading European countries $556 million a year, Medical News Today reports. The researchers presented their findings last week at Digestive Disease Week 2015 in Washington, DC.

Next up, the scientists plan to look at "real-world" effects of the drugs on work productivity and economic advantages, focusing on patients outside clinical trials, Younossi said. "While previous reports have found the cost of these drugs as certainly significant, the long-term benefits of curing patients with hepatitis C makes this a worthwhile investment," he said, as quoted by Medical News Today.

The study results mark a bright point for Gilead--and rivals including AbbVie and its Viekira Pak--as they contend with mounting pushback over pricing. The cost of Gilead's Harvoni, which runs $95,000 per 12-week treatment course, and Sovaldi, which lists at $84,000 per 12 weeks, has sparked outrage among payers and patients. Last year, Express Scripts ($ESRX) CMO Steve Miller ignited a pricing war by selecting AbbVie's ($ABBV) Viekira Pak as the company's preferred hep C treatment in return for a hefty discount. Gilead struck back with a few discount deals of its own, but those moves could take a toll on its 2015 earnings as forthcoming meds from Merck & Co. ($MRK) and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) hit the market.

- read the Medical News Today story

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