(Adds Regeneron comment, share price)
By Deena Beasley
Oct 24 (Reuters) - Amgen Inc, looking to boost use of its potent cholesterol drug Repatha, has cut the medication's U.S. list price by 60 percent to $5,850, the biotechnology company said on Wednesday.
Repatha and rival drug Praluent from partners Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc and Sanofi SA were launched in 2015 at list prices of more than $14,000 a year.
Sales of both - injectable drugs known as PCSK9 inhibitors that dramatically lower bad LDL cholesterol - have been constrained by onerous roadblocks to patient access by insurers looking to limit spending on the expensive drugs.
Amgen's move "is clearly focused on helping patients afford the medicine at the pharmacy counter," said Murdo Gordon, the company's head of commercial operations.
He said the drug, which has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks in high-risk patients, needs to be affordable to patients on Medicare, the federal government's health plan for seniors.
Amgen and other drugmakers have assistance programs to cover co-pays and deductibles for patients covered by commercial insurance, but are barred by law from paying those costs for people on government-funded health plans.
The new $5,850 price is in line with the current net price Amgen gets after discounts and rebates to pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and health insurers, said Amgen spokeswoman Kristen Davis.
In May, Regeneron and Sanofi agreed with pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts Holding Co to lower Praluent's price to between $4,500 and $8,000 in exchange for easier access for patients covered by the PBM's largest plan.
"We are glad to see that Amgen is following our lead in lowering the cost of PCSK9 inhibitors," Regeneron said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.
Express Scripts still lists Regeneron's drug as the preferred PCSK9 option under its largest plan, but said on Wednesday it may "re-evaluate based on Amgen’s update."
“Amgen is taking an important step forward to help payers be better positioned to provide breakthrough medicines and help people achieve better outcomes,” Express Scripts' Chief Medical Officer Steve Miller said in a statement.
Amgen estimates that 75 percent of Repatha prescriptions under Medicare are not filled due to high out-of-pocket costs.
Gordon said Amgen expects that with the new lower list price for Repatha, Medicare Part D plans will list the drug with a fixed co-pay, rather than require patients to cover a percentage of the drug's price as most now do.
He said nearly half of the 3.4 million Americans estimated to be eligible for treatment with Repatha are on Medicare. Currently, the drug is being used by around 50,000 patients worldwide, Amgen said.
"In the long term it is our hope that we can address more patient needs, leading ultimately to higher revenue," Gordon said.
Despite initial forecasts for multibillion-dollar sales, worldwide sales of Repatha totaled just $271 million in the first half of 2018. Sales of Praluent were $134 million in the same period.
Amgen said the new list price will take affect immediately for most Repatha sales, and said the drug sold under the original list price will be phased out by the end of 2020 in order to limit any disruption to existing contracts.
The company said it has been offering healthcare payers significant rebates this year in exchange for improved patient access to Repatha.
Gordon said Amgen may continue to offer rebates to some PBMs and insurers. "If plans are interested in moving to affordable, fixed co-pay tiers, we are not going to be slow to respond to them," he said.
Shares of Amgen, which fell 5 percent in regular trading, were little changed at $187.95 after hours.
Reporting By Deena Beasley; editing by Bill Berkrot and Diane Craft