Gilead Science's Sovaldi may be currently the most effective drug available for treating hepatitis C but there's a big reason it scares away patients. The drug, which was given the nod by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December for patients with chronic hepatitis C, costs $1,000 apiece or an equivalent of about $84,000 for a duration of a typical person's treatment.

Gilead has several justifications for the highly prohibitive cost of its drug. The company, for instance, said that the cost of the drug reflects the cost of other treatments a person with hepatitis C virus, or HCV, may go through without the drug such liver transplants, which could fetch nearly $600,000.

Sovaldi is also far more effective and causes fewer side effects compared with other treatments. The drug can cure patients within 12 to 24 weeks whereas duration of other treatments can last up to one year and with lower success rate than Sovaldi. The cure rate of Gilead's drug is of up to 90 percent while other treatments are only about 50 percent.

Still, the $84,000 price tag per treatment course has raised concerns. The advocacy group Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing which was started by the National Coalition on Health Care and financially supported by the insurance industry is pushing for Gilead to lower the price of Sovaldi.

U.S. legislators are also conducting an investigation on how Gilead came up with the price of its HCV drug as documents revealed that Pharmasset, the drug company that originally developed Sovaldi but was acquired by Gilead three years ago, intended to sell the drug for $36,000 per treatment course, which is more than half the amount needed for one course of treatment with the drug's current price. The price of the drug in Egypt is also only $900 per treatment course, which is several times cheaper than the $84,000 cost in the U.S.

"The large patient population combined with the high price of each individual treatment creates a question as to whether payors of health care, including Medicare and Medicaid, can carry such as load," a letter by Finance committee chairman Senator Ron Wyden, a democrat of Oregon and Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican of Iowa, to Gilead's CEO John Martin reads [pdf]. "Sovaldi's cost also could dramatically increase the government's spending in other programs including health care for prisoners with HVC."

Despite its cost, the desperate need for an effective HCV treatment among patients apparently made Sovaldi one of Gilead's most successful drugs with 62,000 patients trying Sovaldi during the first 30 weeks that it was made available on the market.

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