Merck & Co.’s plans to slash the price of its hepatitis C medication, announced just weeks ago, reaped a tangible reward on Tuesday.
The drug, Zepatier, will be considered a preferred product by the large pharmacy-benefit manager Express Scripts Holding Company starting next year, marking a change to this year’s list of covered drugs. The development is also notable because, outpaced by newer hepatitis C treatments, Zepatier has recently seen sales slide.
The policy change was a result of the price reduction, Express Scripts ESRX, +2.76% indicated in a statement, and could open up a new patient population, as well as sales opportunity, for Zepatier.
The planned 60% price reduction “will make Zepatier the lowest cost agent for a 12-week course of therapy; even lower cost than an 8-week course of therapy for Mavyret,” Express Scripts spokesperson Jennifer Luddy said in an email, referring to the AbbVie hepatitis C drug that was approved last year.
The Tuesday shift was announced as one of a number of changes to Express Scripts’ 2019 list of covered drugs, also called a formulary.
Among hepatitis C drugs, Zepatier is the “low cost leader” on the 2019 formulary, she said. The price change is planned for this fall “due to contractual and other considerations,” a Merck MRK, +0.54% spokesperson said.
Express Scripts will also cover the hepatitis C treatments Epclusa, Harvoni and Vosevi, which are all made by Gilead GILD, +0.65% . While Zepatier is only approved for two genotypes of hepatitis C, Epclusa and Vosevi have been approved for all six genotypes.
Individuals already taking AbbVie’s Mavyret, which is also indicated for all six genotypes, will be able to complete the 8-week regimen, Luddy said.
For pharmacy-benefit managers like Express Scripts, a formulary is a tool that helps them negotiate drug prices. Members of health plans that contract with Express Scripts often can’t get access to drugs that aren’t on the formulary.
Tweets by President Donald Trump about lowering drug prices appear to have had some influence, ultimately, in what drugs earned a spot on the influential formulary. Merck was one of a slew of drugmakers to announce drug price policies after Trump publicly confronted Pfizer about its price increases.
Merck shares rose 0.5% in Tuesday trade. Shares have surged nearly 16% over the last three months, compared with a 7% rise in the S&P 500 SPX, +0.28% and a 5.3% rise in the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.50% .