In the months immediately prior to our government’s December announcement, a pipeline to India was running hot. People desperate for the new meds, and doubtful that our leaders would ever reach an agreement with Gilead Sciences, were gathering up the necessary $1.3G to $2.0G and – most often than not – using the system Greg Jefferys has set up to obtain the drugs from India.
(For Greg’s remarkable story, see my article in the most recent edition of Whack! Look Below)
Before the long-expected announcement, I myself had borrowed $1400 and put it in an envelope on my mantelpiece. It was a Sunday and I was planning on transferring it to Jefferys’ account the next day. I was too frustrated to wait any longer. The Gilead agreement was supposed to have passed through Federal Parliament, but, try as I might, I could find no evidence of it having done so. Then, rather suddenly, things changed…
In the early hours of Sunday, our Federal Health Minister declared that in three months the drugs would become available to all and sundry. I weighed the odds and returned the money. I would wait. Jefferys’ only comment was that it was ‘my decision’.
It wasn’t a particularly easy decision; mistrust of government runs deep among some of us, but I placed my bet – and the government did in fact come through.
We should remember, though, that we are not the only country in the world. It was sobering to watch this recent report out of New Zealand.
Clearly, Jefferys’ good work is not at an end. The India pipeline is still running hot in New Zealand and beyond.
As for Gilead Sciences (makers of Sovaldi/Sofosbuvir) they have certainly earned their money back on their investment – but it might not be quite so heavy a gouging as the report above suggests.
It was Pharmasset Inc. who originally developed Sofosbuvir for – apparently – USD320 million. Then they were acquired by Gilead Sciences for USD11 Billion (source: Bloomberg). Thus Gilead, having earned USD 31.7 billion, have ‘only’ nearly tripled their money, in the process making Sofosbuvir one of the most commercially successful drugs ever.
Gilead have an ongoing dispute with pharma giant Merck, who are claiming that Pharmasset used Merck patents to originally develop Sofosbuvir. In court, Merck have thus far been awarded USD200 million in patent claims, but the legal wrangling – though expected to continue indefinitely – is unlikely to make a significant dent on Gilead’s profits.
Interestingly, Merck have their own Hep C treatment called Zepatier (elbasvir and grazoprevir) whose future, obviously, has been undermined by the success of Gilead’s wonder drugs. This is a reminder that there are a great many Hep C drugs still in the pipeline which will, at most, eclipse Sofosbuvir and, at least, contribute to the range of ‘mopping-up’ drugs presently under trial.
It’s a complex business, but ultimately what I’m trying to get at with this post is that Australia does actually seem to be the only country in the world where people relying on a public health system can access the new DAAs (Direct Acting Anti-Virals) for anything near a reasonable price.
Those with health insurance – who are also less likely to have the disease – have been able to access the drugs for a couple of years in various Western nations, but when it comes to your average Hep C sufferer, nothing exists that even approaches what we now have here, in Australia. (Excluding of course compassionate programs, trials etc.)
Our leaders, having done their sums, have rightfully come to the conclusion that a big splurge now will prevent a slow process of attrition as our health system is dragged down by the costs of a generation with end-stage liver disease. So, good on them. It looks like we may possibly, within a decade or so, entirely eradicate the pesky Hep C virus from our shores – and that would be something to see.
(One note for overseas readers: a pundit in the NZ news clip above suggested that Daclatasvir (Daklinza) imported from Bangladesh may be inferior, lacking sufficient ‘bioavailability’. Greg Jefferys may have more to say on this, but if I was importing Dac, I’d be wary. When it comes to Indian manufactured drugs, there are no such worries. I am informed they are excellent manufacturers of drugs and in all likelihood produce the Sofosbuvir currently being dispensed in Australia.)
Greg Jeffery’s Blog – Recommended as means of keeping update.
Whack! Article on Greg Jefferys (This is the entire magazine – look within to find the article)