By John Rother
Gilead should be commended for taking action to make their best-selling treatment for Hepatitis C, Sovaldi, available to more people around the world. In India, they’ve struck licensing agreements with generic firms to produce the product for pennies on the dollar. Unfortunately, Gilead’s largess is being funded largely on the backs of American families.
For years, the predictable path for pharmaceutical companies has been to maximize profits in the U.S. and then make drugs available worldwide at lower prices– either for charitable reasons or because of price controls in other countries. While it may be fair that Americans should pay more than those in the poorest nations, the real questions is: how much more? Some of the poorest Americans suffer from Hepatitis C and are covered by taxpayers through programs like Medicaid and the VA. As it stands, Gilead is taking billions from these vital programs, forcing administrators to make very hard choices about how to allocate limited resources.
Gilead is due to receive FDA approval in the next few weeks for a new all-oral formulation of Sovaldi that most analysts predict will be priced even higher than the current version. This, however, is a golden opportunity for Gilead to do the unexpected–to give some price relief to Americans who have long subsidized the industry’s R&D efforts through high prices. Even with a substantially lower price, Gilead will still stand to make billions of dollars annually from their new Hepatitis C drug formulation because an estimated 3 million Americans carry the infection. Ridding the population of a dangerous virus is a laudable goal and is now possible, but only if we can afford the cure. Gilead could perform an important act of public service and advance the health of American families if it follows the road less travelled, and does the right thing by making this important cure affordable.