Convenience at a price?
A pharmaceutical company has come up with a landmark cure for hepatitis C, a deadly liver virus that infects three to five times more people than HIV. However, at the hefty cost of $1,000 per pill, it is extremely expensive and has prompted debate over affordability and profiteering.
Gilead Sciences Inc. of Foster City, California manufactures sofosbuvir (brand name Sovaldi). These pills will spare the pain of long-term procedures and weekly injections of a drug that can have severe side effects on the already deteriorating health of patients suffering from this liver-destroying virus.
In addition, sofosbuvir pills can effectively treat – and maybe even cure – hepatitis C in about 12 weeks. This means it would take approximately $84,000 for the complete treatment and $168,000 for the 24 weeks needed for difficult cases.
Sofosbuvir was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on December 6.
“Around 150 million people worldwide are chronically infected with Hepatitis C, putting them at risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer,” accord to World Health Organisation (WHO).
"Affordability is an urgent and pressing issue," WHO Director General Margaret Chan told Reuters during a visit to London.
"These drugs are very expensive. How can we address this? I hope we can learn from the lesson of HIV and find solutions without confrontations."
Last year, FDA approved Gilead’s four-in-one AIDS treatment combination Stribild, which was termed as the most expensive combination HIV drug on the market. It was priced at $28,500 per patient, per year.
Nonprofit organizations of HIV prevention services, testing, and healthcare for HIV patients, protestedagainst the overpricing of necessary drugs in March, claiming the pharmaceutical company was trying to profit from people’s suffering.
“There is little doubt the new drugs will transform hepatitis C treatment - and prove hugely profitable,” according to Thomson Reuters Pharma. While in the developed world, they are expected to become major blockbusters, with consensus sales forecasts for Sovaldi alone standing at $6.8 billion in 2018, in the developing world, however, it may be totally out of reach.
It took almost a decade for people in the developing countries to have access to life-saving HIV medicines due to overpricing. One wonders if the same would happen in the case of hepatitis C.