How an $84,000 drug got its price: ‘Let’s hold our position … whatever the headlines’

By:  Carolyn Y. Johnson and Brady Dennis

Gilead Sciences executives were acutely aware in 2013 that their plan to charge an exorbitantly high price for a powerful new hepatitis C drug would spark public outrage, but they pursued the profit-driven strategy anyway, according to a Senate Finance Committee investigation report released Tuesday.

"Let's not fold to advocacy pressure in 2014," Kevin Young, Gilead's executive vice president for commercial operations, wrote in an internal email. ‘‘Let’s hold our position whatever competitors do or whatever the headlines."

Gilead gained federal approval for its drug Sovaldi in late 2013 and ultimately settled on the price of $84,000 for a 12-week course of treatment. To the company, that price seemed to deliver the right balance: value to shareholders while also not so high that insurers would "hinder patient access to uncomfortable levels," according to internal documents. But they also got more than they bargained for: an outpouring of outrage from the public, a backlash from government and private payers, and political scrutiny.

The 18-month Senate committee investigation reviewed more than 20,000 pages of company documents.

“The documents show it was always Gilead’s plan to max out revenue, and that accessibility and affordability were pretty much an afterthought," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who co-led the investigation with Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), in a news conference.

Continue reading here.