Is Spinraza the next Sovaldi? That’s the question on the minds of health insurers, analysts and investors as Biogen launches Spinraza (nusinersen), its highly anticipated spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) drug. The drug will cost $125,000 per injection, amounting to $750,000 for the first year and $375,000 after that. That’s why Spinraza is bringing to mind Gilead’s $84,000 hepatitis C drug, Sovaldi, which was heralded for its ability to cure most patients, but at the same time blasted for its sky-high price tag.
The latest health industry player to raise a red flag about Spinraza’s price is Molina Healthcare, which warned in its recent annual report that it didn’t factor the drug into its expectations for this year and that it might affect earnings. “The inordinate cost of Spinraza was not contemplated in the development of our 2017 capitation rates,” Molina wrote in its 10K. The company reminded investors that the cost of Sovaldi, similarly, was generally not factored into its 2014 rates. “Further, the relatively high incidence of hepatitis C in Medicaid populations coupled with the exorbitant cost of Sovaldi created a public health and public financing problem across the country,” the 10K says.
A spokeswoman for Biogen told FiercePharma in an e-mail that the $375,000 maintenance price for Spinraza “is in line with the annual cost of other rare disease therapies.” She added that the price tag “was determined through a rigorous and thoughtful process that evaluated a range of information and strived to achieve an appropriate balance among three key pricing principles—clinical value, impact to the healthcare system and stakeholder returns.”
Perhaps, but Spinraza is hitting the market at a time of unprecedented pressure on the biopharma industry to hold down drug prices. When President Donald Trump said earlier this year that the industry is “getting away with murder” on drug prices, it may have seemed like idle talk. But he’s clearly not dropping the issue.
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