European Patent Office maintain patent on hepatitis C drug sofosbuvir

Published 14th September 2018

This week, Doctors of the World together with Médecins Sans Frontières and other organisations* from 17 countries challenged a patent on the hepatitis C drug sofosbuvir at the European Patent Office (EPO). EPO decided to maintain this key patent on a pharmaceutical component, despite the fact that this component is inactive.

This unmerited patent contributes to Gilead’s monopoly and prevents hundreds of thousands of patients from receiving affordable treatment.

The verdict shows how pharmaceutical companies abuse the patent system by using patents for their own interests instead of for their original purpose. Patents were devised to improve the well-being of society, preventing access to affordable treatment is in direct contradiction to this purpose.

Unmerited patents create monopoly positions, allowing companies to pressure governments into paying exorbitant prices for life-saving drugs. For this reason, Gilead can charge up to €43,000 for the twelve-week sofosbuvir based treatment in some European countries. The massive financial burden on the health systems caused by the excessive prices place a burden on the tax payer, who have paid more than €8.5 billion into Gilead’s pockets. This drives the health systems to the brink of collapse.

As a result, the treatment based on sofosbuvir, which is currently the most effective one, has been rationed in many countries.

“We are very concerned by this decision of the European Patent Office. It demonstrates that the patent system is broken in Europe. We are extremely worried what this will mean for the many new cancer drugs that are currently coming on the market. Their price is tenfold higher than the price of sofosbuvir”, says Oliver Maguet of Doctors of the World drug pricing campaign.

Doctors of the World urges European government to take serious action regarding EPO and the European Patent System. Pharmaceutical companies must comply with European patent convention requirements signed by the 38 member states.

By filing the opposition, Doctors of the World and its allies forced Gilead to itself amend its patent prior to the public hearing. “It is vital for civil society organizations to challenge the patent system in Europe. This is the only way to provide evidence on patent abuse and the lack of scrutiny by the EPO”, says Olivier Maguet.

*The additional organizations who were part of the patent opposition include: European Public Health Alliance (EU-wide); Salud Por Derecho (Spain); AIDES (France); Praksis (Greece); and Access to Medicines Ireland


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