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Hepatitis C: The cost of eradicating the disease

Focus 

    Hepatitis C in figures :

    • 71 million people have chronic hepatitis C infection
    • 400 000 people die each year from hepatitis C
    • No vaccine
    • A treatment which costs 52,000 euros per patient in Luxembourg

    Hepatitis C is a chronic disease affecting, among others injecting drug users and people living with HIV. Transmitted through the blood, slowly but surely it attacks the liver and causes fibrosis — a scarring of the organ that prevents it from functioning properly. Severely affected patients develop cirrhosis of the liver and frequently require a transplant.

    A few years ago, the only available treatment had to be taken for one whole year, cost 25,000 euros and caused numerous side effects. And even then, only half of patients recovered. Now a far more positive alternative exists: a new class of drugs called direct-acting antivirals.

    One, sofosbuvir, has almost no side effects, reduces the risk of relapse significantly and needs to be taken for just 12 weeks. With a cure rate of 95%. Its price is the only snag.

    It costs around one hundred euros to manufacture a course of sofosbuvir treatment. Yet, in the US, it costs almost 100,000 dollars to treat one patient. Simply put, the price of a gram of sofosbuvir costs 67 times more than a gram of gold.

    Simply put, the price of a gram of sofosbuvir costs 67 times more than a gram of gold.

    The price of the drug depends on the agreement reached with Gilead, the pharmaceutical company that produces it… So, in 91 countries, sofosbuvir is supposed to be available in its generic form. But these countries only account for half of people with the disease. Most of the worst affected countries do not have the benefit of a licensing agreement between Gilead and generic manufacturers, which would give them access to the drug at a cheaper price. 

    In countries where Gilead has reached an agreement, pretexting the fight against the resale of drugs, it imposes draconian measures. The company has, for example, access to personal information — including the name and address of each patient — which it can use it as it sees fit.

    Yet another consequence of the pharmaceutical company’s pricing policy is that the drug is subject to rationing. Treating all patients would eradicate the reservoir of the disease, which would mean no more patients, no more virus and no more contagion. If it were accessible to all those who need it, sofosbuvir could potentially eradiate the disease.

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