| CAIRO/LONDON, March 21
CAIRO/LONDON, March 21 Gilead Sciences,
facing mounting criticism over the high price of its new
hepatitis C pill Sovaldi, has offered to supply the medicine to
Egypt at a 99 percent discount to the U.S. price.
While the drug will still cost $900 for a 12-week course of
treatment, that is a fraction of the $84,000 charged for a
course of treatment in the United States.
The high price tag in America prompted questions from U.S.
lawmakers on Friday, after U.S. health insurers said they were
seeking help from state health officials to foot the bill.
Gilead said it was "pleased to have finalized an agreement"
for the introduction of Sovaldi in Egypt, which has the highest
prevalence rate of hepatitis C in the world.
"We believe Sovaldi could have a major impact on public
health in Egypt by significantly increasing the number of people
who can be cured of hepatitis C," Gregg Alton, head of corporate
and medical affairs at Gilead, said in an emailed statement.
Egyptian health minister Adel El-Adawi said Cairo had struck
a deal with U.S.-based Gilead for the government to buy Sovaldi
for $300 for a one-month box, according to a recent report on
the state news agency MENA.
That would imply a cost of $900 if Sovaldi is used as part
of a 12-week drug regimen, although the cost would be higher if
it was used for 24 weeks, which is also an option based on
different drug combinations.
El-Adawi said Gilead's offer would apply to Sovaldi supplies
used in government clinics, adding that access programmes would
start in the second half of 2014, following completion of
registration procedures in Egypt.
Sovaldi is in the vanguard of a wave of pills which could
cure the liver-destroying disease in millions of people
worldwide, or even eradicate it entirely. But that will only
happen if the new therapies are affordable enough to allow
Nowhere is the problem more acute than in Egypt, which has
the world's highest prevalence of the virus, following the use
of poorly sterilised needles in campaigns dating back to the
1970s to stamp out the parasitic disease schistosomiasis.
Like HIV, hepatitis C (HCV) can be spread through blood,
often via contaminated needles.
The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 150
million people worldwide are chronically infected, most of them
in developing countries, putting them at risk of cirrhosis and
Other companies such as Johnson & Johnson, AbbVie
, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck & Co
are also developing oral treatment regimens for HCV that have
shown dramatic results in clinical trials, while reducing the
need for debilitating interferon injections.
Doctors and industry analysts believe the new drugs will
transform HCV treatment - and prove hugely profitable. In the
developed world, they are tipped to become major blockbusters,
with consensus sales forecasts for Sovaldi alone standing at
$9.1 billion in 2017, according to Thomson Reuters Pharma.
But the risk of a gulf in access between patients in the
rich and poor parts of the world is causing alarm among health
campaigners who warn of a potential re-run of the battle over
HIV drugs in Africa more than a decade ago.
Medecins du Monde, a non-profit group that provides medical
care around the world, highlighted Egypt as a country in dire
need of the new hepatitis C drugs in a report this week.
Gilead has also said it plans to license Sovaldi to a number
of Indian generic pharmaceutical manufacturers, which would be
able to sell lower-priced copies of the medication.
(Additional reporting by Deena Beasley; Editing by James