When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved sofosbuvir for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C in early December, it was a step that was “expected to dramatically improve outcomes for many patients,” as one report put it. But how many was a big question, as we noted here. While the drug shortens treatment for chronic hepatitis C from 48 weeks to 12, and offers a 90 percent cure rate, at more than $80,000 for a course of treatment, an Open Society Foundation director pointed out that even at half the price, the drug would remain inaccessible, in the IRIN article summarized then. The IRIN article cited a study showing the production cost of a 12-week course of the sofosbuvir could be from $62 to $134.
That is part of the reason why treatment access advocates were underwhelmed by the news announced in a Hindu BusinessLine article that Gilead, the drug’s maker was in talks with Indian pharmaceutical companies to make the sofosbuvir (marketed as Sovaldi) available at about $2000 for a six month course of treatment in low and middle-income countries. The Open Society Foundation’s Access to Essential Medicines Initiative had already produced a report, Beyond the Hype: What Sofosbuvir means — and doesn’t – for global hepatitis C treatment, noting that nearly 90 percent of the estimated 185 million people living with hepatis C globally live in low and middle-income countries where public health budgets are small and patients have to find the money to pay for their medicines. Médecins Sans Frontières has released a statement noting that the reduced price for developing countries looked like a bargain compared to the now established U.S. price of $84,000, the price remains “far too high for people to afford.” Both OSF and MSF have called for the price for a course of treatment in low and middle income countries to drop to at most $500.
Both point out that the Indian Government can override the patent for sofosbuvir, allowing generic manufacturers in India to produce the drug, allowing affordable prices and repeating the success of making HIV drugs accessible.