The demand is rising for pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences's new hepatitis drug, even at $1,000 a pill.

The drug Sovaldi, which costs $84,000 for a full course of treatment, has become the drug therapy of choice for people with hepatitis C. The drug is taken for 12 weeks and is considered effectively a cure for hepatitis C infection.

Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) brought up evidence that the initial pharmaceutical developers Pharmasset estimated the cost of the drug treatment to be $36,000.

According to the Associated Press, three-quarters of prescriptions written for hepatitis C are being written for Sovaldi. So many prescriptions are being written that lawmakers are questioning the high price tag.

Gilead vice president Gregg Alton, however, defended the high price tag saying that if Sovaldi was measured using a cost-per-cure value, Sovaldi boils down to $115,000 per cure as opposed to older hepatitis C treatments that Alton estimates would cost between $150,000 and $200,000.

"To suggest that a cure for a disease like hepatitis C should be priced at $36,000... would put a huge disincentive on investing in cures for our industry," he said at a public forum.

According to IMS Health, Sovaldi is the most successful launch for any hepatitis C drug with 62,000 new patients trying the drug, almost triple the number who tried an early hepatitis C drug that showed promise.

"You can't put too fine a point on the sort of dilemma that we have here," said Michael Kleinrock, director of the IMS Institute, which studies trends with prescription drugs. "This is something that the research-based pharmaceutical industry reaches for all the time: a cure. But when they achieve one, can we afford it?"

Gliead Sciences reported a net income of $3.66 billion after six months of the drug being on the market, already surpassing their profit of $3.08 billion for the 2013 year.

Obtaining the medication has been difficult for patients as private insurance as well as Medicare have been pushing back on Gliead for its high price tag.

Some insurers are restricting the drug use to only patients in advanced stages of the disease. According to Express Scripts, the largest pharmacy benefit manager, states would have to pay an estimated $55 billion to treat Medicaid patients and prison inmates.

According to commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the treatment of hepatitis C could add $200 to $300 to every American's insurance premium for the next five years.

Hepatitis C is a public health concern especially for the Baby Boomer generation. Physicians suggest that all Baby Boomers get tested for hepatitis. The disease typically causes no symptoms so many people with the disease don't even know they have it. 

ⓒ 2021 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.