US Senator dubs Sovaldi price ‘abuse of power’ and calls to defy patent

By Fiona BARRY

- Last updated on GMT

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) says Gilead should be forced to provide Sovaldi to US veterans free of charge
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) says Gilead should be forced to provide Sovaldi to US veterans free of charge

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US Senator Bernie Sanders has called on the Secretary of Veteran Affairs to invoke a law which would break Gilead’s patent on Hepatitis C drug Sovaldi and allow cheaper generics.

Sanders (Independent, VT) wrote to Robert Macdonald, saying Sovaldi’s cost – “$1,000 per pill, or upward of $84,000 for a course of treatment”​ – is preventing armed forces veterans from accessing the drug.

He claimed the hefty price tag is not down to R&D or manufacturing costs but “pure and simple, an abuse of monopoly power​.”

The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) at first negotiated a discount and stumped up nearly $400m to cover the cost of Sovaldi for former soldiers, but since funds ran out this year the VA has been forced to stop enrolment of new patients on the programme.

Wartime law

Sanders asked the head of the VA to use federal law 28 USC § 1498​ “to break the patents on these drugs to authorize third parties to manufacture or import them for government use​.”

The law was enacted during World War I​ and allows the federal government to authorise US and foreign companies to manufacture products in violation of an existing patent, if they are needed for the good of the country.

The copyright holder may sue the US Government for “recovery of his reasonable and entire compensation for such use and manufacture.​”

$0 in India, $1,000 in US

Gilead has already softened its IP rules for foreign countries, granting licences to drugmakers in India​ and the Republic of Georgia to manufacture Sovaldi.

Senator Sanders suggested Gilead could prevent the government turning to the IP-breaking First World War law if it “simply provide[s] the drug to VA at no cost,​” as it has done in some foreign markets.

Instead, claimed the senator, the pharma giant is prioritising “an outrageous compensation package for Gilead’s CEO John Martin, valued at over $190m, including stock options and shares.​”

Gilead spokespeople were unavailable for comment at the time of publishing.

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