New hepatitis drug to cost more in middle income nations; activists cry foul

Pharma company’s strategy of different prices for different countries to affect quality treatment of 185 million people infected with Hepatitis C worldwide

By Jyotsna Singh
Published: Thursday 06 November 2014

Photo courtesy: Bristol-Myers Squibb

Health activists and agencies on Tuesday criticised leading pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS)’s commercial strategy to sell new Hepatitis C medicine Daclatasvir, stating it would exclude a large number of patients who cannot afford expensive treatment.

BMS had announced that it would create a tiered pricing strategy for the drug and set different prices for different countries, depending on macroeconomic factors for each nation.
Speculation among international health groups, who are following the developments, is that the company would price the drug at a whopping $80,000 for one course of treatment of three months and would sell it at a lower price to developing nations. The production cost for Daclatasvir, according to a study by Andrew Hill of Liverpool University, is as little as $10 - 30 for a three months course. The medicine's patent ends in 2027.

Criticising tiered pricing as a marketing strategy, international non-profit Médecins Sans Frontières (MCF) said that due to it, middle-income countries – where nearly three-quarters of the world’s poor, and over 70 per cent of Hepatitis C patients live – would be required to pay high prices. "The drugs would be unaffordable for treatment providers such as MSF, governments, and patients who must pay for medicines out of their pocket,” said a release by the organisation.

BMS also announced that it is ready to negotiate voluntary licenses which allow select generic manufacturers to market cheaper versions of a drug. But these generic manufacturers will be allowed to sell only in 90 developing countries. Countries like China and Egypt, which have a very high HCV burden, are being left out. China has the highest number of Hepatitis C patients in the world, followed by India and Egypt.

BMS had also indicated that it did not have plans to register the drug worldwide. This would seriously hinder access in those countries where the company chooses not to register the drug.

"Affordable access to Daclatasvir has been intentionally blocked from most middle-income countries, with BMS keen to extract as much profit as it possibly can," said Rohit Malpani, director of policy and analysis, Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign. Criticising BMS' secrecy of pricing, he added, “BMS’ secrecy portends an unwelcome approach that does not respond to the urgent need for affordable access to Hepatitis C drugs for millions of people across the developing world.”

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