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WHO Calls for Lower Pricing of Hepatitis C Drugs

The cost of newer hepatitis C treatments, as high as $84,000 in the U.S., is unaffordable for most patients and must be lowered, the World Health Organization said in a report today providing guidelines for the screening, care and treatment of people with the virus.

“A concerted effort is needed to reduce the price of HCV medicines,” the WHO said. “National governments, international agencies, donors, civil-society organizations and the pharmaceutical industry will need to work together to assure that hepatitis C treatment is affordable and accessible for all those who need treatment.”

Past experience with HIV drugs shows how prices can be lowered, the Geneva-based WHO said. Voluntary and compulsory licensing, where generic-drug makers are given permission to produce more affordable versions of a medicine, and tiered pricing are possible ways to achieve affordability, the United Nations health agency said. In the case of HIV, prices fell almost 100-fold using such methods.

Gilead Sciences Inc., the U.S. maker of the Sovaldi hepatitis C treatment, was asked last month by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives to explain how the company set its $84,000 price for a 12-week course. The drug’s cost has been targeted by insurers and public health advocates. Sovaldi, approved last year, offers higher cure rates and fewer side effects than older treatments.

In the guidelines released today, the WHO strongly recommended treatment with Sovaldi and Olysio, a rival therapy from Johnson & Johnson and Medivir AB, citing a “high quality of evidence.”

About 150 million people are chronically infected with the hepatitis C virus, and more than 350,000 people die every year from hepatitis C-related liver diseases, according to the WHO.

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