Spotlight Series on Hepatitis C

International News

Fight for Cheap Drugs Shifts From AIDS to New Hepatitis Pills

December 17, 2013

This article was reported by Fox News.

Fox News reported that the recent approval of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) treatment Sovaldi would trigger an international battle for low-cost access, similar to earlier disputes over access to generic HIV/AIDS drugs. Manufacturer Gilead Sciences priced Sovaldi at $1,000 per day. Experts expect the drug to transform treatment because some HCV patients would be able to take a single Sovaldi pill daily, eliminating the need for interferon injections, which could cause severe flu-like symptoms. At current prices, Sovaldi treatment would cost $84,000 for a 12-week regimen.

Thomson Reuters Pharma has estimated that 2018 sales of Sovaldi would total $6.8 billion. Gilead paid $11 billion in 2012 to acquire Pharmasset, the company that developed Sovaldi. Other companies developing all-oral HCV drugs included Johnson & Johnson, AbbVie, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Merck & Co.

World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan urged drug makers to find options to maximize the drug's use in resource-limited countries. Since HCV was most prevalent in middle-income countries like China, India, and Russia, drug companies were reluctant to accept options such as granting licenses to low-cost generic drug manufacturers.

New York-based legal group Initiative for Medicines, Access, and Knowledge (I-MAK) has filed suit to allow patenting of Sovaldi in India, so that a cheaper generic form could be available. Founder of I-MAK Tahir Amin stated that the cost of the 12-week treatment regimen should be below $500 to encourage governments to start buying the drugs. Andrew Hill, a pharmacologist at the University of Liverpool, estimated that large-scale production of the drug could cost only $1 per day, which would result in a price of $100-$250 for the 12-week regimen. Gilead has argued that its current price was fair because of the drug's benefits, but would release plans for low-cost access early in 2014.

Back to other news for December 2013

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