31 Jul 2014, BioSpectrum Bureau , BioSpectrum
Singapore: A new breakthrough drug for hepatitis C that cures without any side effects, in a short regimen of 12 weeks was thought to be a boon to the 80,000 people worldwide who fall prey to the liver disease.
However, patients need to pay a steep price of $1,000 for each pill. That would be a whopping $84,000 for a typical 12-week course of treatment.
The drug under controversy is sofosbuvir, called Solvadi by its manufacturer, Gilead Sciences. Its effectiveness in treating hepatitis C is so pronounced that the US regulators designated it as a "breakthrough therapy" when they approved it for US markets last year.
The high prices brought howls of protests from activists accusing Gilead for charging hefty prices for their wonder drug and making it ‘out of reach' for the common man.
Mr Karyn Kaplan, director, international Hepatitis and HIV policy and advocacy for New York, questioned Gilead on their pricing model stating that a life-saving drug must be made available at affordable costs.
In response to the allegations, the firm's executive vice president Mr Gregg Alton argued that the drug is priced differently around the world. In Egypt, which has a high rate of hepatitis C, the drug will cost just $300 per month, he added.
Mr Alton noted that the firm aimed to provide generic licensing for the drug which would push down the prices further.
A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Liverpool revealing that the Solvadi pill can be made for a few US cents, and that even at $1 a pill, Gilead is set to make good money.
Mr Kaplan said, "Gilead is raking profits with its second-quarter sales of Sovaldi summing up to a whopping $3.5 billion. We are not at all against Gilead making money and we all recognize and agree that originator companies make investments, and that they should be appropriately rewarded. However, what that appropriate reward is and the lack of transparency in how pharmaceutical originators,come up with that price is not in touch with reality."