Bristol-Myers Squibb is teaming up with not-for-profits to provide its expensive hepatitis C drug to patients in developing nations in Asia and Africa.
This follows an agreement in November between Bristol-Myers Squibb and the United Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool that allows generic manufacturers to develop the drug under royalty-free license for sale in 112 developing countries.
Bristol-Myers will provide drugs for patients in Ethiopia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Rwanda and Vietnam, which together have as many as 30 million people who test positive for hep C. That's according to the Clinton Foundation, whose group, the Clinton Health Access Initiative, has teamed up with aid organization AmeriCares to provide the drugs.
CHAI will help government agencies get sofosbuvir, the generic name for hep C drug Solvadi, which must be taken with Daklinza. Across the world, 2.75 million people are estimated to be co-infected with HIV and hep C, with the bulk of sufferers living in Africa and Asia.
Governments will purchase sofosbuvir through Gilead Sciences or generic firms, depending on the country, and some patients may be responsible for some cost, a Clinton spokeswoman said. In the targeted countries, all patients with HIV already receive treatment through public programs.
Though hep C drugs offer promise for their ability to cure the disease in most patients, their price tag can make them prohibitive for some. Gilead's' Harvoni can cost as much as much as $94,500 for a 12-week treatment or about $1,125 per pill.
Daklinza costs $63,000 for a 12-week regimen. Solvadi, sold by Gilead, is priced at $84,000 for a 12-week course of treatment or $1,000 a pill. The FDA recently approved Merck & Co.'s Zepatier, which the company says will cost $54,600 for a 12-week treatment.
A Bristol-Myers spokesman said that the organizations are days away from treating the program's first patients. He added that four India-based companies, Cipla, Emcure, Hetero and Natco, have signed on to develop generic Daklinza, known as daclatasvir.
Gilead has launched similar programs and made its drug available in generic versions in developing countries. But Melissa Osborn, an associate professor of infectious diseases at Case Western University in Cleveland, argues that patient assistance programs in the U.S. don't go far enough to help hepatitis C patients cover the cost of treatment.
“I think it is admirable that pharmaceutical companies are helping to bring the treatments to areas where they are needed,” Osborn said. “However, there are few options for people here in the United States who are denied treatment by their insurance.”