March 20, 2015

Charity attacks Gilead over hepatitis C drug restrictions

Wed Mar 18, 2015 4:18pm EDT

(Reuters) - Charity Medecins Sans Frontieres has accused U.S. drugmaker Gilead Sciences Inc GILD.O of restricting access to its breakthrough hepatitis C drug Sovaldi in developing countries as it tries to protect profit margin in wealthier nations.

MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders, said Gilead's restrictions aimed to stop discounted supplies of Sovaldi being diverted to patients from rich countries, but that the effort had resulted in "multiple restrictions and demands" on people receiving treatment in poor countries.

It said Gilead was excluding people without national identity documents, a move that hurts migrants, refugees and marginalized patients.

"We're seeing Gilead trying everything it can to squeeze every last drop of profit out of some middle-income and (high-income) countries, and millions of people with hepatitis C will have to pay the price," said Rohit Malpani, Director of Policy and Analysis at MSF's Access Campaign.

Gilead said in developing countries it operates a system of tiered pricing and voluntary generic licensing to help enable access to its hepatitis C medicines.

"As part of these efforts, the company works to ensure that the medicines reach their intended recipients with patient access our primary goal," a Gilead spokesman said.

Sovaldi, which is far more effective and better-tolerated than older treatments, has come under fire for its $1,000-a-pill price tag in the United States. It racked up $10.3 billion in sales for Gilead in its first year on the market.

Gilead said it is in discussions with 11 generic drugmakers to identify strategies for supplying 91 developing nations. But activists have said such deals would not ensure access to several middle-income countries where health authorities will struggle to provide treatment to patients.

"We will continue to seek input on all areas of our access program as it evolves, and make any improvements as needed," Gilead said.

In a statement on Wednesday ahead of a meeting between Gilead and the generics producers, MSF urged the companies to reject a program under which it says the U.S. drugmaker keeps people in developed and some middle-income countries, where Sovaldi's cost is "exorbitant," from accessing cheaper copies.

"MSF is greatly concerned that this program will establish an ugly precedent and will be introduced in all countries where the company and its generic licensees sell the drug," the charity said.

About 150 million people in the world live with chronic hepatitis C, most of them in low- and middle-income countries.

(Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui in Mumbai and Bill Berkrot in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy)


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