News / Health

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists display placards during a rally at the AIDS Conference 2014 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) in Melbourne, on July 22, 2014.Activists display placards during a rally at the AIDS Conference 2014 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) in Melbourne, on July 22, 2014.
x
Activists display placards during a rally at the AIDS Conference 2014 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) in Melbourne, on July 22, 2014.
Activists display placards during a rally at the AIDS Conference 2014 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) in Melbourne, on July 22, 2014.
Anita Powell

To hear scientists talk about it, it’s nothing short of a wonder drug.

The drug is sofosbuvir, called Solvadi by its manufacturer, and its effectiveness in treating hepatitis C is so pronounced that the U.S. regulators designated it “breakthrough therapy” when they approved it for U.S. markets last year.

The catch is that it doesn’t come cheap: a single pill costs $1,000, meaning the 12-week daily dose prescribed for most patients will cost $84,000. That has brought howls of protests from activists accusing California-based Gilead Sciences of charging extortionate prices.

The dispute highlights the continuing conundrum afflicting medical research and spiraling health care costs, not only in the United States and elsewhere. What’s an appropriate price to charge for life-changing, or life-saving, drug therapies and who determines it?

Pharmaceutical companies argue they spend billions of dollars to research, discover and test such breakthrough drugs, so the production costs account for just a fraction of the company’s overall investment.

Activists-- some of whom traveled to the International AIDS conference in Melbourne, Australia, to protest Gilead’s decisions-- say drug companies gouge customers and patients with arbitrary pricing that varies widely from place to place.

“We want Gilead to explain, number one, on what they’re basing their price, whether it’s $84,000 in Europe and the United States, or even $2,000 in another country,” said Karyn Kaplan, who directs international Hepatitis and HIV policy and advocacy for the New York-based organization, the Treatment Action Group. “We want to understand what is their price based on and why won’t they give a price that will be affordable to all who need it.”

Gregg Alton, executive vice president for corporate and medical affairs for Gilead Sciences, said the drug is priced differently around the world. In Egypt, for example, which has a high rate of hepatitis C, the drug will cost just $300 per month.

Alton also noted that the company will give generic licensing to several factories, which will push down the price in the future.

“It is a fantastic drug. It’s really changing the landscape of Hepatitis C and the ability to treat hepatitis C, from a largely untreatable disease to one we can cure with a more than 90 percent rate,” he told VOA.

A study by researchers at the University of Liverpool concluded that the Solvadi pill can be made for a few U.S. cents, and that even at $1 a pill, Gilead will make a healthy profit. 

Alton said in considering the drug’s price, one should take into account that a patient who is cured of hepatitis C is free not only from the disease, but also the financial burden of future treatments.

“So actually on a cost basis, if you just look at pure cost, it is actually less expensive than treating HIV, because HIV being chronic, if you actually put the cost of actually treating for life, it turns out to be more,” Alton said. “And, again, the other thing is that we actually hope the cost comes down, that’s the purpose of the generic licensing.”

As many as 150 million people around the world have the chronic version of this liver disease that is spread, like HIV, through blood or sexual contact, according to the World Health Organization. For that reason, many HIV patients are at higher risk for contracting hepatitis C. Symptoms tend to surface late in the disease’s path, and can lead to liver cancer.

As a whole, the hepatitis family of viruses kills about 1 million people per year, according to the WHO.

For now, Gilead is raking in profits. Earlier this week, the company announced second-quarter sales of Sovaldi at a whopping $3.5 billion. That puts this little yellow pill on track to be one of the pharmaceutical industry’s biggest all-time hits, with sales expected to reach those of cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor.

“We are not at all against Gilead making money. They are a corporation, they are a for-profit entity. So we all recognize and agree that originator companies make investments, and that they should be appropriately rewarded,” Kaplan said. “However, what that appropriate reward is and the lack of transparency in how pharmaceutical originators, pharmaceutical companies come up with that price, is not in touch with reality.”

You May Like

Arab League Delays Forming Joint Force

Delay grows out of one of original obstacles facing pan-Arab force, analysts say: 'They may agree on the principle, but they continue to argue about how to implement the project' More

Pakistan Demands Afghanistan Protect Its Kabul Mission, Staff

Officials in Islamabad say Afghan agents are harassing Pakistani embassy personnel, particularly those living outside of mission’s compound More

US Survey: Trump Lead Grows in Republican Presidential Contest

Quinnipiac University poll shows brash billionaire real estate mogul with 28 percent support among Republican voters More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
    Next 
by: John
July 29, 2014 11:22 AM
Sam. Your approach certainly sounds like the most sensible one. You'd have to make sure you weren't ripped off by counterfeits though. But I can't think of a general solution to the overall problem. Stricter testing procedures raise the cost of drugs, and activists whine about the cost to non-white, non-Western users, so Westerners, particularly US citizens, subsidize $300 payments in Egypt by paying $84 000 themselves. One may note that Africans refuse to recognize Western patents, so the 'charitable' pharma firms are backing MSF's testing of the new sleeping sickness drug. The cost is naturally added to our bills.

by: Julie Dinkins-Borkowski
July 28, 2014 2:04 AM
I have been trying to get activist to notice the Cf drug that is hardly a cure is going to cost patients and their families $300,000 a year. And these drug companies are causing people to lose their insurance and lose their livelihood because no one wants to hire someone with such high priced health needs. Drug company execs are making billions off the backs of poor sick people, and no one cares.

by: CaliforniaDreaming from: Ventura
July 27, 2014 8:21 PM
The uproar seems to be mostly from the PMB's who are concerned only with drug costs and payments. The health insurers are the ones who benefit since this drug is a cure for a deadly disease. They save the potential payments of liver cancer treatments, transplants, and all the late stage problems that dwarf the cost of Sovaldi. If one looks at the OVERALL picture, the drug cost is minor in comparison, though $84,000 is not a minor cost; but what is the cost of a life?

by: Jonathan from: NYC
July 27, 2014 8:10 PM
This must be the gazillioneth time that an article has been written about the price of Solvaldi! Shut up already! Insurance Co's like United Health Care are paying their Execs $10-30 Million plus and Exxon books $5-10 billion dollars per quarter and nobody says anything. Isn't Provenge just as expensive and doesn't offer a cure? All the political healthcare activist should just shut up and by the stock! I did @ $63 last October! Market forces will solve any long term problems. This is America people!

by: edwin cameron from: australia
July 27, 2014 7:12 PM
meanwhile they rake in billions of $$$ and the people that can't afford the drug suffer,has anyone thought about how contagious hep c is??commonsense dictates supply = eradication,as usual Greedy Big Pharma can't get it's snout out of the trough and the virus keeps destroying family's and peoples lives,as for that comment about Gay and drug addicts deserving the cost,well i won't dignify an answer,he is clearly a [insult redacted]!!

by: Trust Gendron
July 27, 2014 2:38 PM
@ John Rudy
Not all Hep C is contracted through immoral acts. I have Hep C and got mine from a Tattoo before the Tattoo industry became
regulated by State and Fed laws.
Here are a few more ways Baby Boomers contracted Hep C :

*Blood transfusion or blood therapy or solid organ transplant performed before 1992, when a highly sensitive test to screen blood for hepatitis C was developed.
*Kidney dialysis.
*Blood products used to treat clotting problems made before 1987.
*Health care workers who have been exposed to HCV-contaminated blood through a needle stick or splashes to the eye.
*Infants born to infected mothers.
SO IN THE FUTURE, PLEASE RESEARCH YOUR FACTS BEFORE YOU COME OFF AS IGNORANT...

by: Colin Newton from: Pennsylvania
July 27, 2014 9:59 AM
Three ways to limit the price of drugs:
1) A very expensive part of drug development is clinical trials, especially phase 3. Clinical trials could be run limiting payments to doctors and hospitals and could be designed by the FDA and the drug applicants.
2) Limit payment of executives (CEOs, CFOs, presidents etc.) to an ethically acceptable amount (why does anyone need more than $10 million a year?).
3) Restructure corporate and individual tax for health care companies.

by: abbey Lynn from: wisconsin
July 27, 2014 5:48 AM
Really? I'm a 35 year old suburban housewife with two kids and I have it. I've never made any poor decisions that lead to my Hep C. I was born with a congenital heart defect and had open heart surgery when I was two. I contracted it when I was two via a blood transfusion. Get your head out of your rear please.

by: kDavis26 from: Madison, WI, USA
July 27, 2014 2:44 AM
I can see both sides of this debate. My only thought is that it shouldn't be only about Solvaldi. There are arthritis medicines that cost $60,000 per year, year after year, possibly with the patient living 25 more years and never being cured. I have a relative with severe Alzheimer's who suffered a heart attack and is in a home that costs $12,000 per month, and doesn't have enough cognition to know she's even there.

I'm OK with putting a cap on the cost/benefit ratio for medicine - we won't pay more than X for each additional healthy month some treatment is expected to create, or something along those lines, but let's not make it specific to one medicine. If Solvaldi is too expensive, ok, but then everything with a worse cost/benefit ratio is also too expensive.

by: John Rudy from: Seattle , Washington USA
July 26, 2014 11:56 PM
Hepatitis is primarily contracted through IMMORAL sex acts and / or ILLEGAL IV drug addiction . I say let these people pay for their own consequences , not others !!!
Comments page of 2
    Next 

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs