GENEVA (Reuters) - Prices of drugs to cure hepatitis C and to treat hepatitis B are dropping dramatically, offering affordability and hope to 325 million people living with the viral liver disease that can be fatal, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.
A generic antiviral drug for hepatitis C, which can be cured in three months, was placed this week on WHO’s list of pre-qualified medicines. That means it can be used safely by aid agencies and countries for bulk purchasing.
“Indeed, the first drug sofosbuvir has now been pre-qualified, that means it is quality-assured through the WHO prequalified mechanism, which is very good news,” Dr. Gottfried Hirnschall, director of the WHO department of HIV and global hepatitis program, told a Geneva news briefing.
The drug is made by Mylan NV.
It joins Daclatasvir, made by Bristol-Myers Squibb , on the list.
“Sofosbuvir started out costing $84,000 for a three-month curative treatment. And the prices have come down even in high- income countries to lower levels. But in low- and middle-income countries the prices are now down to $250 and less. And that is exactly what is needed,” Hirnschall said.
“We hope that many more will follow,” he said.
Hirnschall, who declined to name companies that have applied for drugs to be prequalified, later said by email: “Four more products from other manufacturers are in the pipeline and we expect two of these to be prequalified very soon.”
Tenofovir, an HIV drug that is also the most effective treatment for hepatitis B, is available for just $48 per year in many low-income countries including South Africa, he said.
In all, 257 million have hepatitis B which requires life-long treatment and 71 million have hepatitis C. Viral hepatitis, which can cause cirrhosis or liver cancer, affects 325 million people worldwide - a figure which includes three million suffering from both killer forms, according to WHO.
About 1.34 million people die annually from viral hepatitis, almost the same toll as from tuberculosis and more than from HIV. Hepatitis is spread through injecting drug use and unsafe use of syringes in hospitals, as well as sexually.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Pritha Sarkar