The $1,000 pill for a liver-wasting viral infection that made headlines last year is no longer the favorite of patients and doctors.
The new leading pill for hepatitis C is more expensive, and the number of patients seeking a cure has surged.
Sovaldi, last year's wonder drug, has been pushed aside by a successor called Harvoni, made by the same company. The sticker price for Harvoni is $1,350 a pill.
The fast-paced changes in hepatitis C treatment are being watched closely amid fears that breakthrough drugs could reignite the rise of U.S. health care costs. Other medications that could turn into cost drivers include a new treatment for melanoma and a cholesterol-lowering drug awaiting approval. More hepatitis C drugs are also headed to market.
Hepatitis C affects some 3 million people in the U.S. and claims more lives here than AIDS. With the new drugs, patients finally have a choice among highly effective cures with minimal side effects. Previous treatments were hit and miss, and many patients couldn't tolerate the side effects. But newfound choice doesn't seem to have led to widespread price competition.
"As a society we need a way of determining what is a reasonable price at the time of introduction of a new drug," said Stephen Schondelmeyer, a University of Minnesota professor who specializes in pharmaceutical economics. "We have expanded coverage, but we haven't done anything to control costs on the pricing side."
The Associated Press asked two companies that track the prescription drug market for a hepatitis C update. IMS Health collects data on pharmacy prescriptions and sales, while DRX surveys prices paid by private health plans and prescription benefit managers. What they found: