- The World Health Organization has added hepatitis C drugs to its Model List of Essential Medicines, marking the first time in two years that the list has been updated.
- The List of Essential Medicines is used by governments worldwide to determine which treatments they should make available.
- The WHO adds certain medications to the list based on epidemiology and need. In essence, the agency is urging drug makers like Gilead to lower the prices of its next-gen hep C franchises in developing nations.
WHO's List of Essential Medicines is published every two years. The last time it was published (May 2013), Gilead's Sovaldi had not yet been approved. When it was approved, it became the first of a new class of oral agents with very high cure rates and much easier treatment regimens than the previous standard of care.
Considering the fact that 150 million people worldwide are infected with hepatitis C and roughly 500,000 people die each year, the promise of a better treatment option could significantly improve overall rates of morbidity and mortality in countries with high rates of hepatitis C infections.
But the price of Sovaldi—roughly $1,000 per pill or $84,000 for a 12-week regimen—is completely out of reach for patients in mid-tier and developing countries. And although Gilead has struck deals to market cheaper versions of the drug (and its older cousin Harvoni) in poorer nations (including a plan to provide them for free in the country of Georgia in a hep C elimination project), the company's come under fire for the way it's gone about ensuring the cheaper drugs don't flood into richer countries, and has been urged to lower prices even more.
The WHO is aiming to procure effective oral hep C treatments from various sources, including generics companies, with the goal of making widespread accessibility a reality.