[Ip-health] Science Speaks: Universal hepatitis C treatment is possible with patent reform and competition, reports say

Pauline Londeix pauline.londeix at gmail.com
Fri Mar 21 01:56:11 PDT 2014



Universal hepatitis C treatment is possible with patent reform and
competition, reports say


HIV treatment history offers proof it can be done, authors highlight

It is a disease that an estimated 150 million people worldwide live
with, that causes the deaths of at least 1,000 people a day, and that
affects virtually every country of every income level, many of them
without accessible diagnostic tools. The current standard of care
brings harsh side effects and only a 50-to-75-percent cure rate. Yet,
the report New Treatments for Hepatitis C Virus: Strategies for
Achieving Universal Success notes, international responses have yet to
reflect the severity of the threat posed by hepatitis C.

The report, from the international humanitarian nonprofit Médecins du
Monde calls 2014 a "turning point" in the history of the pandemic
disease that was discovered in 1989. That is because new treatments
with fewer side effects and cure rates close to 90 percent are on the
horizon, having been approved, or readied for approval in the last
year. The report, then focuses on a familiar obstacle, noted here
before: the costs of the new treatments put them almost universally
out of reach. In the United States, the cost of a 12-week course of
sofosbuvir, the new treatment from Gilead approved by the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration last year, runs from $80,000 to $90,000 per
person. Gilead plans to make a round of treatment available in middle
income countries, including Egypt, the report says, for a minimum
price of $2,000 per person, but in Egypt, the report notes, the cost
of medicine alone for everyone with hepatitis C would amount to five
times what the country spent on all of its public health services in
2011. Gilead is making a deal through voluntary licensing to make
cheaper versions of the drug available to 60 lower income countries,
but noting "there is no Global Fund on HCV to purchase treatments,
diagnostics, and monitoring," for low and middle income countries, the
report contends that the deal's impact on actual access, let alone on
Gilead's bottom line, will be minimal.

Pointing to patent refusal, revocation and compulsory licensing as
tools that made possible the 10 million people on antiretroviral
treatment for HIV today, the report advises it is time to learn "the
lessons from the fight" against that pandemic, and questions the
eligibility of sofobuvir for a patent.

At the same time, an article in the current Clinical Infectious
Diseases breaks down the cost of manufacturing the drugs and concurs
that the "situation of HCV treatment today is reminiscent of treatment
for HIV/AIDS in the year 2000." The article, Minimum Costs for
Producing Hepatitis C Direct Acting Antivirals for Use in Large-Scale
Treatment Access Programs in Developing Countries, found that a
12-week course of sofosbuvir, for example, costs from $68 to $136 to
manufacture. This article, too, suggests that legal measures,
including compulsory licensing, to overcome patent barriers will be
necessary to make the drugs accessible. Until the drugs are widely
accessible, the authors add, "current death rates from HCV of 500,000
per year will continue for many years to come." Noting the "high cost
of drugs is often justified by the need to recover costs of research
and development," the authors add  that in the case of HIV
antiretroviral drugs, "many of these costs were assumed by the public
sector, where parts of the drug discovery and development occurred."

More information about the Ip-health mailing list