Thanks to hep C pricing war, Gilead, AbbVie both score spots on Prime's coverage list

Better late than never? Try better late than early for Prime Therapeutics, which has scored deals on both sets of hepatitis C drugs. As Bloomberg reports, Gilead Sciences ($GILD) and AbbVie ($ABBV) each offered prices low enough to justify putting Harvoni and Viekira Pak on its preferred formulary.

That arrangement is in contrast to Express Scripts' ($ESRX) precedent-setting exclusive with AbbVie on Viekira Pak, which gave the PBM a "substantial" discount in return for prime access to its 25 million or so covered members. After Express Scripts announced that discount deal, CVS Health ($CVS) unveiled its own exclusive with Gilead on Sovaldi, its single-drug treatment, and Harvoni, the two-treatment cocktail in one pill. Followed quickly, we should add, another exclusive for Gilead, with Anthem.

Prime SVP Peter Wickersham

For the Blue Cross and Blue Shield members covered by Prime Therapeutics--some 25 million of them in 23 states--there will be no such limitations. "We are receiving market-leading rates from both companies," SVP Peter Wickersham told Bloomberg. "Neither company wanted to be left off the formulary."

So much for the promise of no pricing war in hepatitis C, which Gilead and AbbVie both delivered before Viekira Pak won FDA approval. Both companies quickly wheeled and dealed their way to price-cutting agreements.

For Wickersham, the spectacle has been welcome, of course. Not to mention eye-opening; the Prime executive told Bloomberg that he'd never seen branded drug prices drop so quickly on new competition. And he figures that more discounts are to come as more hep C cocktails make their debut.

Those new rivals may be forthcoming sooner than market-watchers had thought. Monday, Merck ($MRK). said it would be filing its hep C entrant for FDA approval during the first half of this year. Its two-drug regimen--grazoprevir plus elbasvir--is expected to be a solid competitor in tandem with Sovaldi, despite recent data that set Merck back in its bid to prove the drugs effective in as little as four weeks. On tap next is Merck's MK-3682, which it bought along with Idenix last June for $3.9 billion; the plan is to team that med with the grazoprevir/elbasvir combo, knocking out of the cocktail.

- get the Bloomberg story
- see the Merck release

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