Brazil court strips Gilead hepatitis drug patent, politician says

BRASILIA/SAO PAULO, Sept 24 (Reuters) - A Brazilian court has stripped the patent protection of a Gilead Sciences Inc big-selling hepatitis C treatment in Brazil, paving the way for cheaper generics, a presidential candidate who pushed for the move said on Monday.

At a campaign event in the northeastern city of Maceio, center-left candidate Marina Silva said the court invalidated the exclusivity patent for the drug sofosbuvir, sold under the brand name Sovaldi, in a move that she said will reduce costs for patients.

Sovaldi was the first of a new generation of drugs that are effectively a cure for the serious liver disease. But despite Sovaldi representing a major treatment advance, Gilead came under intense criticism for a price that initially came out to $1,000 a pill in the United States. Other nations, such as India, and consumer groups have also challenged the patents.

The Brazil move comes as local pharmaceutical manufacturers Farmanguinhos-Fiocruz, Blanver and Microbiologica Quimica e Farmaceutica fight for the right to produce a significantly cheaper, generic version of the drug, with the support of Silva, a candidate who has championed environmentalism, relatively orthodox economics, and a robust social welfare net on the campaign trail.

According to local media, Farmanguinhos has proposed to Brazilian health officials producing a generic version of sofosbuvir for about a quarter of the price charged by the U.S. biotech company.

“This patent removal is a legitimate act of defense for the life of those who are in line for an extremely expensive treatment,” Silva said.

Brazilian justice officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. A representative for Gilead did not immediately return a call requesting comment.

The patent decision underscores how individual companies have been dragged into Brazil’s volatile presidential campaign, with right-wing front-runner Jair Bolsonaro criticizing certain investments by Chinese firms, and investors girding for more intervention in state-controlled companies should a leftist win.

Brazilians will go to the polls on Oct. 7 for the first round of the nation’s presidential election. If no candidate wins a majority of valid votes, as is likely, there will be a runoff on Oct. 28.

Right-wing Congressman Bolsonaro and leftist former Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad are seen as most likely to face off in the second round, in what polls indicate will be a tight race.

Reporting by Maria Carolina Marcello and Gram Slattery; editing by Bill Berkrot