Gold Dollars Signs In Pill

Source: Bill Brooks/Flickr

Healthcare costs are the leading cause of bankruptcy, so it's little wonder that people are up in arms over the cost of newly launched medicine like Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD) Harvoni. Gilead set the price of a 12-week treatment course of the drug at $94,500, or roughly $1,125 per pill. That's a steep price to pay, but you might be surprised to learn the cost of these three medicines that make Harvoni look like a bargain.

Novartis

Source: Novartis

Protecting its franchise
Over the past decade, Novartis
(NYSE:NVS) has tripled the price for Gleevac, a treatment for CML, a common type of blood cancer, to about $92,000 per year. But while that price jump is concerning, it's the price for Novartis' Gleevac successor Tasigna that outpaces Harvoni.

In a bid to insulate itself against Gleevac's patent expiration and protect billions of dollars in revenue, Novartis set the price for Tasigna at an eye-popping $102,000 a year. Although Tasigna's price eclipses Gleevac, cost doesn't appear to be denting demand. In the third quarter, U.S. sales of Tasigna grew 27%year over year to $141 million and sales outside the U.S. grew 25% to $250 million.

First new treatment in years
Bristol-Myers
 (NYSE:BMY) gets about $30,000 per injection for its cancer drug Yervoy and since a treatment course of Yervoy includes four injections, Yervoy's $120,000 price tag is 27% more expensive than a full course of Harvoni. 

Yervoy was the first new medicine approved for the treatment of advanced melanoma in more than a decade and results from a long term study presented last fall showed that 22% of 1,800 Yervoy patients studied were living three years after treatment, and 17% had survived seven years. 

As a result, sky-high pricing and improved efficacy is turning Yervoy into one of Bristol's best sellers. In the third quarter, Yervoy's sales jumped 47% from a year ago to $350 million. 

Ever rising prices
Roche
's (NASDAQOTH:RHHBY) Kadcyla won approval for use in breast cancer patients last year but it quickly captured payer's attention not for its efficacy, but for its high price. The cost of Kadcyla totals around $144,000, which is 52% higher than Harvoni's price and far north of the cost for Roche's other breast cancer drugs Perjeta, which costs about $91,000, and Avastin, which costs roughly $40,000.

Although clinical studies show that Kadcyla can extend patient lives by an additional six months, price regulators in the United Kingdom aren't impressed. National healthcare payers in England and Scotland have decided that they won't pay for the drug, arguing that its benefit doesn't justify its cost. That decision prompted more than 30,000 people to sign a petition asking Roche to cut its price. Given that U.K. regulators are known for sharp elbows in negotiating drug costs, it wouldn't be shocking if Roche eventually offers them a discount. Regardless, Kadcyla's high price and rising demand has led to sales jumping 148% through the first nine months of this year to $385 million.

Fool-worthy thoughts
Each of these drugs carries a cost higher than Gilead's Harvoni, but none work as well. During trials, up to 99% of patients given Harvoni achieved a functional cure and that means that Harvoni is revolutionizing hepatitis C treatment. An argument can be made that
Bristol-Myers, Novartis', and Roche have priced their drugs at levels to recoup development costs, which can total into the hundreds of millions of dollars, and that their drugs offer new found hope to thousands of patients, but absent a cure its hard to argue that any offer payers a better value than Harvoni. Regardless, given that medicine is increasingly migrating toward gene based drugs that are even more costly to develop, payer pushback on pricing isn't likely to end anytime soon.

 

Todd Campbell owns shares of Gilead Sciences. Todd owns E.B. Capital Markets, LLC. E.B. Capital's clients may or may not have positions in the companies mentioned. Todd owns Gundalow Advisors, LLC. Gundalow's clients do not have positions in the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Gilead Sciences. The Motley Fool owns shares of Gilead Sciences. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.