Calls grow for China to bring in newer HCV therapies

A sharp drop in the price of hepatitis B therapy Viread (tenofovir) in China following negotiations sets the stage for a similar effort for cutting-edge hepatitis C therapies still not approved but nearing the finish line.

Earlier this year Viread, marketed in China by GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and developed by Gilead Sciences ($GILD), was one of three drugs that saw sharp price cuts after China's National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) worked out deals that would boost sales by getting them on the national reimbursement pricing list.

GSK CEO Andrew Witty on the second quarter earnings call said that Viread has made the list.

Cai Haodong, a professor of infectious diseases at Beijing’s Ditan Hospital, told the South China Morning Post that Viread now costs less than RMB500 ($75), down from RMB1,500 before the price talks.

And Bernhard Schwart­länder, the World Health Organization's representative in China, told the newspaper on World Hepatitis C day last week that affordability is the key for hepatitis C therapies as well.

“Only when a person can ­actually get these medicines--at an affordable price--will lives be saved,” he told the South China Morning Post. He added in a statement that about 10 million people living with chronic hepatitis in China face "mostly avoidable deaths" by 2030 unless Beijing acts.

Reports that some patients in China are mixing their own HCV therapies at home has also bolstered calls for quicker approvals. So far, Hangzhou-based biotech Ascletis Pharmaceuticals is in hot contention to get the first modern therapy approved in China, though Bristol Myers-Squibb ($BMY) and Gilead Sciences are also in approval processes nearing the end.

China is in talks with Gilead on pricing for HCV therapies--though it is not known if that includes Epclusa (sofosbuvir and velpatasvir), which is now available to 100 developing countries via a manufacturing and marketing license deal between Gilead and several Indian firms.

The deal does not cover China, which reportedly wants Gilead to charge a reference point not higher than that seen in 6 surrounding markets including India.

- here's the story from the South China Morning Post

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