Amgen lowers cholesterol drug Repatha cost 60% amid political talk of high drug prices

The pharmaceutical company Amgen announced Wednesday that it will decrease the price of its cholesterol lowering drug Repatha by 60%. The company said some patients weren’t filling their prescriptions because the cost was too high.

Even with a coupon, if you were to fill the prescription for a single cartridge the average price was around $1,435 according to data from prescription website GoodRx Wednesday morning before the company announcement. Patients likely have to take it indefinitely, and insurers don’t always cover it.

The antibody drug is for patients with a genetic condition that causes high LDL cholesterol levels and people who have already had a heart attack or stroke or who can’t get cholesterol levels down even with lifestyle changes.

The drug works by reducing LDL cholesterol that can build up in your artery walls. When it builds up, it blocks an enzyme known as PCSK9. The enzyme helps your liver receptors clear LDL cholesterol out of your body. In drug trials the company submitted for approval to the United States Food and Drug Administration and in subsequent studies, Repatha was shown to significantly lower LDL cholesterol in patients. It lowered LDL by 60% in patients that were already taking statins, according to a 2017 study. The FDA approved the drug in 2015.

Heart disease and stroke often are preventable, yet they remain the leading cause of disability, death and health care spending in the US according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The company said it is lowering the price because it found 70% of patients were abandoning their prescription for the product because of its price.

“Our top priority is getting the drugs to our patients and the price just wasn’t working,” said Dr. Steven K. Galson, senior vice president, global regulatory affairs and safety at Amgen. Galson said they heard stories about patients going to the pharmacy and being told their copay would be almost $400 a month “and they turn around and leave without the drug.”

In a call with reporters Wednesday, the company said Medicare patients will see a particular benefit. For instance, instead of paying between $200 and more than $300 a month out of pocket patients will instead pay more in the range of $25 to $150 a month out of pocket. No specifics were given on what the cost will be for patients with private insurance.

“Anytime anyone takes a step toward price transparency and lowering the costs of drugs [it] is a good thing,” said Doug Hirsch the GoodRx Co-founder/Co-CEO. “I still think it will be too expensive for most Americans.”

Hirsch said looking through the data they keep on drugs, very few people have filled a prescription for Repatha and unless more insurance companies start to cover the drug, he doesn’t think that many more people will use it, especially since there are alternative options out there that, even with the price cut, cost a lot less. He doesn’t see the move encouraging other companies to do the same with their drugs.

Amgen’s cost cutting move comes amid the broader political conversation about how to fix the high price of drugs. Per capita prescription drug spending in the US exceeds that in all other countries, studies show. The amount Americans spend on drugs has nearly doubled since the 1990s, a 2017 government investigation found.

In October, President Donald Trump signed two bills into law that were meant to help patients know more about how much their drugs cost. At the signing ceremony, the President said the American people can expect further regulatory action to reduce drug prices in the coming months. In January 2017, Trump accused the pharmaceutical industry of “getting away with murder” with the high prices they charge for drugs.

In July, the Swiss company Novartis promised that it wouldn’t raise prices for US customers this year. It’s rival Pfizer made a similar promise that month. That announcement came after Trump met with the Pfizer CEO and tweeeted his praise saying, “Pfizer is rolling back price hikes, so American patients don’t pay more. We applaud Pfizer for this decision and hope other companies do the same.”

Drug companies have made similar overall cost containment promises in the past. There was a flurry of such press releases in the 1990s, but drug prices continued to rise.

Galson said this is the first time Amgen has lowered the price of an individual drug that is already on the market in this manner. “Of course we are feeling the heat, everyone is, but we feel the heat internally, even without [general pressure from] the President,” said Galson. “If you have 70% of patients abandoning the product due to price it is just horrible.”

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