Generic Version of Pricey Hep C Drug Available in Developing Countries

By John Lavitt 09/17/14

The $1,000-a-pill hep c treatment will be approximately $10-a-pill in its generic version, but it won't be available in the U.S.


California-based pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences struck a deal on September 15 to offer a generic version of its $1,000-a-pill hepatitis C treatment which will be available in poorer countries. The scandal over Sovaldi since its release on the open market in the United States has not been over its effectiveness, but rather its outrageous cost. As one of the costliest drugs in the world, Sovaldi has been criticized as an answer only for the rich, excluding the vast majority of people in the world infected with the hepatitis C virus.

Pushing back against the tide of negative opinion, Gilead Sciences announced a generic version of the drug that will be sold in India and other developing countries at a fraction of the price charged in the United States. With nearly 180 million people infected worldwide with hepatitis C who do not live in rich countries, the goal is to stop a potential storm of negative press by saving lives when death can be prevented through accessible treatment options.

In its first year on the market after gaining approval in the United States in December of 2013, Sovaldi is expected to exceed $10 billion in sales in 2014. Such profit easily covers the research investment in the drug by Gilead Sciences. Still, the intensity of the criticism in terms of the cost remains as Sovaldi continues to be a financial drag on insurers and Medicare alike.

Even though Gilead spends 19% of its revenue on research, the company will still profit from sales of Sovaldi. The new outrage in the United States is that such profit can be maintained even after the company cuts the drug’s price by 99% in Third World countries. A secondary goal of the company is to protect their patents in Third World countries by offering breaks before the price structuring is attacked by governments and in courts.

In the United States, Sovaldi costs $1,000 a pill, or $84,000 for a typical 12-week course of treatment. According to Gregg H. Alton, Gilead’s executive vice president, Gilead plans to introduce the drug in India for about $10 a pill, or 1% of the price in the United States.

“Really what we’re trying to do here through the partnerships we’ve established is expand availability of chronic hepatitis C therapy, particularly in the developing world," Alton explained.

Seven Indian generic drug makers will pay royalties to Gilead to manufacture the drug for 91 developing countries. More than half of the world’s infected HCV population lives in those countries. The cost of manufacturing Sovaldi in India will be a miniscule fraction of the price charged in the United States. The lingering question is whether such price breaks are fair to the down and out population in the United States infected with the HCV virus.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.