Image via Gilead.

Sofosbuvir is a very effective drug against Hepatitis C, effectively curing the disease in over 90 percent of all cases. Sofosbuvir is a component of the first all-oral, interferon-free regimen approved for treating chronic hepatitis C.Interferon-free therapy for treatment of hepatitis C reduces the side effects associated with use of interferon. However, a 24 week treatment in the US costs $84,000 – something most people couldn’t afford, if they don’t have insurance. But the same drug will cost $1,800.

Big Pharma company Gilead announced that the drug will be sold in India, where pharmacies will be allowed to also produce it. There are some 18 million people in India with hepatitis C.

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“We believe in the capabilities of our partner companies for high quality, low cost, high volume manufacturing. The competition between them will bring down the price of the generic version of sofosbuvir and thus this partnership will help bring about better access to patients globally. Gilead will have no control over their pricing. Our partner companies will set their own prices,” said Greg H Alton, executive vice president of Gilead, at a press conference.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) pointed out that while this is a laudable initiative, Gilead is leaving out the countries with the largest Hep C burden – China. China has some 30 million infected people. Other countries with over 1 million infected people left out were Brazil, with 2.6 million and Ukraine, with 1.9 million. It’s not clear why they did this, but it’s probably due to commercial issues.

Still, all in all, I think this is a much welcome decision, and I expect Hep C medical tourism from the US and Europe to flourish in the future.

“We welcome the interest of generic companies to scale up production of new direct-acting antivirals and Gilead’s decision to make the final agreement public; however, a highly restrictive voluntary license that blocks millions of people with Hepatitis C from affordable prices is not acceptable. MSF hopes that excluded governments will take all relevant measures available under global trade rules and national patent laws to secure low-cost generic versions of these medicines,” said Rohit Malpani, Director of Policy and Analysis, MSF Access Campaign.