Hepatitis C Treatment: Will The Merck-Gilead Patent Battle Affect Its Cost?

Hepatitis C Treatment: Will The Merck-Gilead Patent Battle Affect Its Cost?
Co-authorship network map of physicians publishing on hepatitis C Andy Lamb / Flickr CC BY 2.0
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Now that a Federal jury has finally decided on a legal battle between two pharmaceutical giants Merck and Gilead over who rightfully owns the patent on a specific active ingredient in a Hepatitis C medicine, the question now is whether the recent ruling will affect the affordability of the treatment.


Early this week, a federal court in San Jose ruled that sofosbuvir, an active ingredient in Gilead’s hepatitis C medicine, is exclusively patented to its rival drug company, Merck. One of the pressing concerns that health advocates and politicians alike is whether the recent ruling will make the treatment for hepatitis c more expensive. But it turned out, it’s the complete opposite.

According to the National Aids Treatment Advocacy Project (NATAP), Merck’s Zepatier, its anti-hepatitis c medicine, costs only around $54,600 for a 12-week treatment. That’s way lower than Gilead’s $94,000 for the medicine Harvoni, for the same 12-week treatment. Both prices from Gilead and Merck being compared are the prices before discounts.

The NATAP report showed that Merck’s hepatitis c medicine is one of the lowest on the market, which is 30 percent cheaper than its leading competitors’ products, including Gilead and Abbvie Inc.

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The issue stemmed from a patent infringement case filed by Merck when Gilead rolled out its hepa C medicine. A report from Reuters showed that in 2013, Merck notified Gilead about its patent to sofosbuvir. But instead of settling the issue amicably, Gilead filed a case before the court in San Jose to declare Merck’s patent on sofosbuvir null and void.

As a response, Merck then counter-sued Gilead, and this time, the Merck asked Gilead to pay roughly $2 billion in damages. This is on top of the 10 percent of the total sales that Gilead has made or going to earn with its hepatitis C drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni, which use Merck’s patented ingredient.

“Although we are disappointed by the jury’s verdict today, there are a number of remaining issues to be decided by the jury and the judge. Therefore, it is premature to comment any further,” Gilead said in a statement as reported by the ABC News.

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