Hepatitis C medicine being imported for Rs 1 crore

Source: Times of India

28 July 2014

MUMBAI: Even as a controversy rages on globally over the eye-popping price of US firm Gilead Science’s hepatitis C drug at $1,000 a pill, Indian patients have already begun importing the medicine from countries like Canada spending, in some cases, up to Rs 1 crore.

The drug, Sovaldi (sofosbuvir), is believed to cure about 90% of patients with the common form of hepatitis C. However, at around $84,000 for a 12-week course, it has many countries worried, with even US senators questioning the company’s pricing.

Estimates suggest that 20-25 patients in India are already on Sovaldi, with some 150 others having been given the prescription. The imported drug comes at around Rs 15 lakh a month, taking the cost to Rs 45-50 lakh for a three-month course.

Significantly, Gilead Sciences also applied for multiple patents in India on sofosbuvir, which have been opposed by civil society groups before the grant. The drug was approved by the US Food & Drug Administration last December.

Sources said Gilead has begun enrolling patients for clinical trials in 10-15 centres in India. “We anticipate seeing the first results by the end of 2015,” Gregg Alton, executive V-P (corporate and medical affairs), Gilead Sciences, told TOI. “Prices for India have not been finalized, but considering the GNI per capita of India and the burden of disease, we would expect the country to fall into our lowest pricing tier of approximately $300 per bottle.”

Malaysia-based Mahesh Keswani, a patient in the third week of treatment, says he got the medicine from Canada after a US-based doctor wrote him a prescription.

“Patients can import these products after taking a personal permit against the prescription of a qualified doctor when existing treatment options have been exhausted,” says Praveen Sikri of Ikris Pharma Network, a firm which connects patients with overseas suppliers.

Only a few doctors in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore have begun prescribing the pill. Among them is Dr Samir Shah, consultant hepatologist attached to Mumbai-based hospitals such as Jaslok and Global. “Any person who has received blood transfusion before 2002 carries the risk of hepatitis C virus and should get a simple blood test done,” Shah says.

The World Health Organization estimates that over 12 million Indians may be chronically infected, with a majority not knowing their status. About 30-50% of Indian patients need the new treatment, doctors say.

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