April 5, 2011
Though they are still under review by the European Medicines Agency, two new hepatitis C virus (HCV) treatments are already being prescribed to French patients. In December, telaprevir and boceprevir received special temporary authorization in a program for critically ill patients for whom no other effective treatment is available, said French pharmaceutical regulator AFSSAPS.
Used as a complement to existing HCV treatment, telaprevir, made by U.S.-based Johnson & Johnson and Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc., and boceprevir, by Merck & Co., boost cure rates from roughly half of patients to between two-thirds and three-quarters, studies show. Both drugs are protease inhibitors made using the same technologies that led to improved HIV drugs. Approximately 500 patients currently are being treated in France, said Michel Bonjour, spokesperson for SOS Hepatites.
But under the program, telaprevir costs €22,000 (US $31,290) and boceprevir €30,000 (US $42,670). France's national health insurance program covers the entire cost. While Merck and J&J executives said the price may come down once the drugs are approved for the broader market, doctors worry high pricing could affect treatment access.
England, Russia and countries in Eastern Europe are likely to delay use or restrict access to the drugs if their prices remain high, said Antonio Craxi, director of gastroenterology and internal medicine at the University of Palermo. Italy and Spain could do the same, he said. Existing HCV treatments cost Italy €350 million annually (US $498 million). "If you triple the cost, that would be more than €1 billion [US $1.42 billion]," he noted.
Howard Liang, a Boston-based analyst with Leerink Swann & Co., estimates that the drugs will be priced at $35,000 to $40,000 in the United States.