EPO ruling upholding Gilead patent effectively blocks access to key hepatitis C drug

Free Hepatitis C medicines provided by Delhi Government.

India 2018 © Garvit Nangia/MSF

NEW YORK/MUNICH, SEPTEMBER 13, 2018—The European Patent Office on Thursday ruled against patient and provider groups in 17 countries that had challenged Gilead’s unmerited patent on the hepatitis C drug sofosbuvir. The decision, following a hearing today in Munich, will keep more affordable generic versions of the medicine out of reach for people across Europe and beyond. 

This hearing follows a legal challenge filed by patient and treatment provider organizations from 17 European countries, including Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Médecins du Monde (MdM), and several other groups.

Gilead initially set the price for the oral drug sofosbuvir, which forms the backbone of most hepatitis C combination treatments, at $84,000 per 12-week treatment in the United States—a staggering $1,000 per pill. In countries where MSF is treating people with hepatitis C, including Myanmar, Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Mozambique, Uganda, and Kenya, sofosbuvir is currently being procured from generics manufacturers for less than $100 for the same treatment course. The exorbitant price of sofosbuvir and the way its price has led to rationing of this drug has stirred an intense debate on the pricing of patented medicines in Europe.

Gaelle Krikorian, head of policy for MSF’s Access Campaign, made the following statement after today’s hearing:

“Today’s decision is a clear illustration of how multinational pharmaceutical corporations like Gilead abuse the patent system so they can shut out any competition and continue to charge exorbitant prices. We will appeal today’s decision as we strongly believe that the European Patent Office should have revoked the patent.

"Any patent granted in Europe not only affects access to medicines for Europeans, but also impacts people in many developing countries that lack the resources to perform careful patent examination, and instead follow the European Patent Office’s decisions. This calls for extremely close scrutiny by European Patent Office of any patent related to medicines."