[Ip-health] Text of Letter from Senator Bernie Sanders to the VA, asking for compulsory licenses on Hepatitis C drugs.

Elizabeth Rajasingh elizabeth.rajasingh at keionline.org
Tue May 12 14:17:08 PDT 2015

Attached is the text of a letter sent by Senator Bernie Sanders to Robert
A. McDonald, the Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, asking the
Secretary "to use your authority as Secretary of Veterans Affairs to break
the patents on Hepatitis C medications for the treatment of veterans
suffering with the disease."

Senator Sanders is asking the VA to use 28 USC 1498, "to authorize third
parties to manufacture or import" generic versions of HCV drugs, for
government use. The reason for Senator Sander's request is that "the VA is
being forced to stop enrollment of new patients in treatment because of
lack of funds."

A press release about the letter is found here
​ ​
A PDF version of the letter can be found here
​ ​

May 12, 2015

The Honorable Robert A. McDonald
Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary McDonald:

I am writing to urge you to use your authority as Secretary of Veterans
Affairs to break the patents on Hepatitis C medications for the treatment
of veterans suffering with the disease.

Last December, as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I
held a hearing about the high price of Hepatitis C drugs and the impact of
those high prices on access to treatment for veterans. At the time, I
raised concerns that the price of these new Hepatitis C drugs, specifically
Sovaldi, which is manufactured by Gilead Sciences, even when discounted,
would preclude veterans from accessing these life-changing drugs.

When Gilead brought Sovaldi to market, they priced the drug at $1,000 per
pill, or upward of $84,000 for a course of treatment. This price was not a
function of cost. It was, pure and simple, an abuse of monopoly power. They
knew that as the only drug like it on the market, the price would be paid.
Even VA, which got a better price because of your ability to negotiate drug
prices, was forced to reallocate nearly $400 million to cover the cost
these new drugs.

I have now learned that my concern has become a reality – VA is being
forced to stop enrollment of new patients in treatment because of lack of

One solution to this would be for Gilead Sciences to simply provide the
drug to VA at no cost, as they have done in the Republic of Georgia, India,
and other places throughout the world with high rates of HCV infection.
However, the company has not stepped up to do this for our country’s
veterans. Instead, they have prioritized an outrageous compensation package
for Gilead’s CEO John Martin, valued at over $190 million, including stock
options and shares.

Therefore, I ask you to utilize federal law, specifically 28 USC § 1498, to
break the patents on these drugs to authorize third parties to manufacture
or import them for government use.

I cannot think of a more clear-cut situation where the government use
provision should be applied. Our nation’s veterans cannot, and should not,
be denied treatment while drug companies rake in billions in profits.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has long understood the devastating
impact of Hepatitis C virus (HCV) on veterans. According to VA’s own data,
approximately 180,000 veterans currently enrolled in VA have been diagnosed
with the disease and there may be an additional 40,000 enrollees who have
not yet been diagnosed. Knowing that VA cares for a population with one of
the highest rates of HCV in the country, the Department has sponsored 30
clinical trials to help treat and cure the disease, according to the
National Institutes of Health. In fact, the founder of Pharmasset, the
company that developed the breakthrough drug to treat HCV, now known as
Sovaldi, was a VA employee.

The availability of these new drugs should have been nothing but cause for
celebration. Prior to these drugs, VA treated approximately 100 patients
per week. With the new drugs now on the market, treatment rates have grown
to approximately 750 patients per week. According to VA, this number could
rise even further, to 1,100 patients per week with further improvements to
capacity. And not only are treatment rates increasing, cure rates are
increasing as well. We must not allow corporate greed to stand in the way
of this potential.

I thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.


Bernard Sanders
United States Senator

[2] http://www.sanders.senate.gov/download/051215-letter/?inline=file

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

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