Lawmaker Pushes for VA Emergency Use Power to Reduce Price of Gilead’s Sovaldi

May 20, 2015

The former chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is pressing the VA to invoke a  wartime provision to break the patents on Gilead Sciences’ pricey hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, after the agency stopped treating veterans because it had exceeded the more than $400 million budgeted for hep C treatment.

In a letter last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) asked VA Secretary Robert McDonald to dissolve Sovaldi’s (sofosbuvir) patents using a federal law meant to prevent profiteering so that other companies could make and sell generic versions at a fraction of the blockbuster drug’s $1,000 a pill cost.

Alternatively, Gilead could provide the drug to VA free of charge, Sanders suggested. The VA has treated about 20,000 veterans with Sovaldi, but an additional 200,000 believed to have hepatitis C are in need of treatment, he said.

The mere threat of invoking the wartime provision during President George W. Bush’s administration persuaded Bayer, which held a patent on antibiotic Cipro, to cut the drug’s price after anthrax-laced letters were mailed to Capitol Hill and news media offices in 2001.

VA spokesman James Hutton says the department is working with congressional leaders on a proposal to cover the budget shortfall related to hep C treatment through reallocation of previously appropriated funds.

Sovaldi, which costs $84,000 for a full 12-week course, has come under intense criticism for its price.
Gilead declined to comment on the matter. Read Sen. Sanders’ letter here: www.fdanews.com/5-15-Sanders-Letter.pdf. — Jonathon Shacat