Launch of Merck & Co Inc's new hepatitis C pill could see price leverage
Launch of Merck & Co Inc's new hepatitis C pill could see price leverage

The US health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers are hopeful that the launch of Merck & Co Inc's new hepatitis C pill will improve their influence in price negotiations with drugmakers.

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration approved Merck's Zepatier for treatment of patients suffering from the most common type of the liver-destroying virus, genotype 1, and the less common genotype 4.

The new drug’s list price is $54,600 for a 12-week regimen in comparison to $94,500 for Gilead Sciences Inc's Harvoni. AbbVie Inc’s multi-pill regimen, Viekira Pak, has a list price of around $83,000.

On Friday, the biggest manager of the US prescription drug plans Express Scripts Holding Co, CVS Health Corp the No. 2 drug benefit manager, and health insurers Aetna Inc and Anthem Inc told Reuters that they have been evaluating the latest drug in terms of medical benefit and cost.

In late 2014, AbbVie secured an exclusive contract with Express Scripts, as a result of which Gilead was forced to discount its own contract rates with a range of other payers. Merck said that the pricing for Zepatier has been done in line with net prices for competing drugs.

In an emailed statement, Express Scripts said, “We look forward to working with Merck,". "Having multiple, clinically effective options allows us to again leverage competition and make medicine more affordable for our clients”.

So far, no changes have been made to Express Scripts' preferred formulary, but Harvoni is going to be part of its Medicare formulary on March 1.

CVS, which has now given preferred status to Gilead's hepatitis C drugs, said that it has followed a strategic assessment of the therapy landscape and is working along with drugmakers for the evaluation of options.

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