Lawsuits around the world aim to improve access to generic versions of antiviral treatments.
The liver disease hepatitis C is the new battleground for lawsuits intended to slash the cost of life-saving medicines. In February alone, five suits were filed in India and Argentina claiming that the latest class of antiviral drugs does not warrant the 20-year patent monopoly that manufacturers have sought in those countries.
In the 2000s, successful challenges to patents on HIV drugs gave poor nations access to high-quality ‘generic’ copies of the medications at rock-bottom prices. Now, buoyed by that success, activists are applying the same strategy to a fresh wave of hepatitis C drugs. They note that the standard 12-week course of treatment costs more than the average annual salary for millions of people in middle-income countries.
Public-health experts say that expanding access to the drugs would have immediate benefits. Roughly 177.5 million adults worldwide are infected with the hepatitis C virus, which can cause liver cancer and cirrhosis if left untreated — but the latest antiviral medications have revolutionized care. The first to reach the market was sofosbuvir, sold under the name Sovaldi by Gilead Sciences of Foster City, California; clinical trials of the drug in combination with other medications have shown a cure rate of 95% or more. “If these medicines were made widely available, you could make a plan to eliminate this disease,” says Brook Baker, a law specialist at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts.
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