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

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    Clinton, Sanders Fight for African American Votes

    Some African American lawmakers lining up to support Clinton in face of perceived surge by Sanders in race for Democratic nomination in presidential campaign

    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.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.