Hepatitis C are collapsing

Hepatitis c Biotechnology

Gilead Sciences Inc. stock rebounded slightly in Wednesday's abbreviated trading day and a key index regained ground after an investor selloff the previous day spurred by pricing of the company's next-generation hepatitis C treatment.

Harvoni costs $1, 100 a pill, or $94, 500 over a 12-week course of treatments.

Express Scripts, based in St. Louis, said it would instead cover a recently approved and cheaper hepatitis C drug, Viekira Pak, from AbbVie Inc. (NASDAQ: ABBV). The standard course of treatment costs a little more than $83, 000, but, as the Wall Street Journal reported, AbbVie gives Express Scripts a discount.

Generalist investors freaked at the Express Scripts news Monday, sending the NASDAQ Biotechnology Index down 4.6 percent on Tuesday. That was the index's largest one-day drop since April.

The index gained 1.62 percent in the shortened, pre-holiday trading day Wednesday, closing above its finishing point of Dec. 16.

Harvoni — the brother of Gilead's $1, 000-a-pill Sovaldi, which was approved in December 2013 and rung up sales of nearly $8.6 billion through September of this year — and Viekira Pak are part of a new generation of all-oral hepatitis C drugs. These drugs effectively cure patients of the potentially deadly disease in three or four months or less.

The virus progressively destroys the liver over years, leading to liver cancer (and the use of pricey cancer drugs) and liver transplants.

Sovaldi, Harvoni and Viekira Pak also generally do away with injectable ribavirin and interferon, which can cause debilitating side effects that can bump hepatitis C patients off their 48-week treatments.

Payers — including private insurers and government-operated insurance programs — as well as some patient advocacy groups have criticized the drugs' pricing. Some members of Congress, including retiring California Democrat Henry Waxman, have asked Gilead to explain how it comes up with a drug's price.

The California Technology Assessment Forum earlier this month said Harvoni may be "very cost effective" when measured under a commonly used metric called "quality-adjusted life year." But the group said effectiveness doesn't translate into California being able to afford the drug for its Medicaid patients and prison population.

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