Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is working with a group of charities to challenge the patent on the hepatitis C drug sofosbuvir.
The patent is currently held by pharmaceuticals firm Gilead of Foster City, California. The company’s monopoly on the production of sofosbuvir means it can charge as much as €55,000 per 12-week treatment in Europe, for a drug that studies have shown costs less than $1 per pill to produce.
“With an estimated 80 million people worldwide living with hepatitis C, treatment should be available to everyone who needs it, no matter where they live – including in Europe”, said Dr Isaac Chikwanha, hepatitis C medical advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign.
“The price of sofosbuvir is keeping treatment out of reach for millions of people who need it, and treatment is being rationed or is just unavailable across the globe.”
“A drug that cures doesn’t do any good if the people who need it can’t afford it,” he added.
Sofosbuvir forms the backbone of most hepatitis C combination treatments for people and is one of a range of oral ‘direct-acting antivirals’ to come to market within the last four years that has caused survival rates to skyrocket.
But countries where Gilead retains monopoly control over sofosbuvir cannot import or produce generic versions.
The patent challenge, which has been submitted to the European Patent Office, would seek to remove or shorten the length of a patent as well as promoting generic competition in order to dramatically reduce prices.
“Gilead’s patent monopolies on sofosbuvir are blocking access to affordable hepatitis C treatment, including generic versions, in many countries including those in Europe”, said Aliénor Devalière, EU Policy Advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign. “This patent can – and should – be challenged; the science behind sofosbuvir isn’t new.”
Patents on sofosbuvir have already been revoked in China and Ukraine, and decisions are pending in other countries, including Argentina, India, Brazil, Russia and Thailand.
The patent challenge submitted to the European Patent Office could accelerate the availability of affordable generic versions of sofosbuvir in a host of nations within Europe.
“Successful patent oppositions have created access to life-saving drugs for millions of people in the past, and are now being employed as a legal measure to improve access to hepatitis C treatment,” said Yuanquiong Hu, Legal Advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign. “MSF has filed or supported patent challenges in many countries.
“People all over the world, and in the projects where MSF works, need affordable access to life-saving medicines.”