[Ip-health] NEWS: VA Should Acquire Life-Saving Hep-C Drug, Sanders Says

Elizabeth Rajasingh elizabeth.rajasingh at keionline.org
Tue May 12 10:56:19 PDT 2015

KEI has worked with Sen. Sanders on this issue and is very happy to see he
is asking the Department of Veterans Affairs for a compulsory license on
hepatitis C drugs. This is the second time that a U.S. Senator has asked
for a compulsory license in the context of hepatitis C. Earlier, Senator
Leahy asked the NIH to determine if they had march-in rights against
sofosbuvir and if so, to exercise them.

See the Press Release below.


Sanders Urges VA to Use Emergency Powers to
​ ​
Save Lives of Veterans with Liver Disease

WASHINGTON, May 12 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today asked the Department
of Veterans Affairs to invoke emergency powers to make expensive hepatitis
C drugs available at affordable prices to treat tens of thousands of
veterans now being denied the most effective care.

The VA recently stopped enrolling veterans in successful new treatments for
the often deadly liver disease because the department already had spent the
more than $400 million it had budgeted for the costly drugs.

The high-profit hepatitis C drugs are among the most expensive medications
on the market. Gilead Sciences makes two of the new blockbuster medications
and charges $1,000 per pill. That adds up to $84,000 over the course of
caring for a single patient. Even with a discount, the large VA health care
system still drained its budget for treating hepatitis C.

Sanders’ proposal would make it possible for the VA, which already has
treated about 20,000 veterans for hepatitis C, to afford to care for the
estimated 200,000 additional veterans enrolled in VA health care who are
believed to have the disease.

In a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, Sanders urged him to authorize
the manufacture or importation of the drug for VA patients at a fraction of
what is being charged by the companies which hold patents on the

“Our nation’s veterans cannot and should not be denied treatment while drug
companies rake in billions of dollars in profits,” Sanders said in the
letter. He noted that the new medications could cure many more patients
with far fewer side effects. “We must not allow corporate greed to stand in
the way of this potential.”

The legal provision Sanders cited has been used in the past to stop
profiteering by defense contractors in wartime. The threat of using the
same law by the administration of President George W. Bush persuaded Bayer,
which held a patent on Cipro, to dramatically cut the price of the
antibiotic after anthrax-laced letters were mailed to Capitol Hill and news
media offices in 2001.

“One solution to this would be for Gilead Sciences to simply provide the
drug to VA at no cost,” Sanders said. “However, the company has not stepped
up to do this for our country’s veterans.”

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Sanders last year
held a hearing on the high price of hepatitis C medications. Now serving as
ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders said using the
government’s existing authority to have the hepatitis C drugs manufactured
or imported at lower cost would save taxpayers billions of dollars now
going to the pharmaceutical companies.

To read Sanders’ letter to Secretary McDonald, click here.

Elizabeth Rajasingh
Perls Research and Policy Fellow, Knowledge Ecology International
1621 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20009
elizabeth.rajasingh at keionline.org | 1-202-332-2670

More information about the Ip-health mailing list