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Drugmaker revives female libido pill Addyi, at half the price

In this Aug. 18, 2015 file photo, Sprout Pharmaceuticals CEO Cindy Whitehead holds a bottle for the female sex-drive drug Addyi in Raleigh, N.C. (Allen G. Breed / Associated Press)
In this Aug. 18, 2015 file photo, Sprout Pharmaceuticals CEO Cindy Whitehead holds a bottle for the female sex-drive drug Addyi in Raleigh, N.C. (Allen G. Breed / Associated Press)

Sprout Pharmaceuticals is relaunching Addyi, the first-ever approved drug for low libido in women – and it’s slashing the drug’s price in half.

The new price will be $400, down from $800 for a monthly prescription. The uninsured and those not covered for the treatment will pay no more than $99. It’s a rare step for a pharmaceutical company: Drugs typically go up in price on an annual basis, sometimes even twice a year.

It’s not immediately clear the extent to which the sharp price cut will boost sales or benefit consumers. Drugmakers often pay rebates to middlemen and higher list prices afford them the ability to pay those middlemen bigger rebates in exchange for more favorable placement on a drug plan. There isn’t much precedent for a drug company lowering prices of a relatively new brand drug, especially when not facing competition.

“If in fact I cut my price in half and the end patient is not rewarded with better prices something is glaringly wrong with the system,” said Sprout Chief Executive Officer Cindy Eckert.

Eckert is reintroducing the drug, taken daily, through a telehealth model. On a website, doctors can diagnose the condition and prescribe the drug. Patients will be able to receive the drug by mail.

Addyi treats a condition known as hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), or in laymen’s terms, low sexual desire that causes distress. Its approval process was fraught as lobbying groups pushed for the same access to sexual dysfunction drugs that men have. Addyi was rejected twice by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before winning approval in 2015.

The prescription carries a boxed warning, the FDA’s strictest. Women taking Addyi have to sign an agreement acknowledging the risk of drinking while taking the drug.

At present, Addyi has no competitors, but that could change. The FDA said it will decide by March 2019 whether to approve a drug that treats the same condition. That drug, bremelanotide, is under development by AMAG Pharmaceuticals. If approved, it would be taken as-needed rather than daily. AMAG says low sexual desire affects around 6 million pre-menopausal women in the U.S.

Eckert co-founded Sprout with then-husband Bob Whitehead in 2011, then sold the company to Valeant Pharmaceuticals International for $1 billion in 2015, after Addyi was approved. The couple eventually divorced and Eckert has since changed back to her maiden name.

Under Valeant, sales never took off in part because insurers and pharmacy-benefit managers denied or limited coverage for the pill, and the company terminated Addyi’s salesforce after it failed to gain momentum.

Sprout’s shareholders later sued Valeant over claims the company bungled the pill’s marketing. They won back control of Addyi after settling a lawsuit late last year.

“Do I hope that over time we lift this veil of shame that I think has surrounded these women for decades and has been perpetuated by all of the myths and misconceptions and deep opinions and frankly biases we hold around sexuality?” said Eckert. “For sure.”


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