Gilead to offer cheap Sovaldi to 80 countries

Gilead's Sovaldi--Courtesy of Gilead

Turns out it's not just India and Egypt that will be getting price breaks on Gilead's hep C star, Sovaldi. The drugmaker is close to reaching an agreement with generics makers to bring low-cost versions of the $84,000 wonder drug to about 80 developing countries, according to EVP Gregg Alton.

A licensing deal allowing copycat manufacturers to produce Sovaldi--as well as an experimental cocktail pill combining the med with another Gilead ($GILD) hepatitis drug--could be wrapped as soon as the middle of this month, Alton told Bloomberg. In addition to India, Indonesia and Pakistan, countries like South Africa, Vietnam, Egypt and Mongolia rank among those likely to be in the agreement, one source told the news service.

In order to ensure the necessary capacity to produce large quantities of the therapy and distribute it widely, getting multiple generics makers is "critical," he told the news service. "We are talking to 5 or 6 companies right now and we will see whether all 6 sign a license with us," he said.

And that shouldn't be hard to do, according to Yusuf Hamied, chairman of India's Cipla, who confirmed his company was in talks with the biotech. "Everybody wants a product. There should be plenty of potential for several partners. There's a capability and availability to supply," he told Bloomberg. Companies like Mylan ($MYL) and Hetero Drugs are also rumored to be involved in talks.

Beyond the generics agreement, Gilead plans to sell branded Sovaldi at a discount in certain lower-income countries, including India, with a $900 price tag for 12 weeks of therapy, the news service notes. That's a far cry from the $1,000-per-pill sticker that's been setting off ire from payers, patients and politicians in the U.S.

Gilead EVP Gregg Alton

But the way Gilead sees it, the sky-high price is justified. Sovaldi boasts a cure rate of 90%, potentially preventing more costly treatments--like liver transplants--down the line. And in response to the payers that have been searching frantically for ways to curb Sovaldi spending--like PBM Express Scripts, which has proposed forming a coalition to exclude the drug until rivals force prices down--Alton says Gilead's regimen cost is the same as the cost for older regiments.

"We spoke to all the payers many times, and the price is no different from what they were paying last year," he told Bloomberg. "So how can they be surprised?"

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Special Report: The New Drug Approvals of 2013 - Sovaldi