China has rejected a patent application related to Gilead Sciences' controversial hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, an advocacy group said, saying that this could pave way for other countries rejecting the patent for the top-selling drug

Gilead has drawn fire for its exorbitant price of $1,000 per pill, or the equivalent of $84,000 for a 12-week course. Despite its prices, Sovaldi's cure rate was over 90 percent, sparking outrage among various patients, government officials and insurers. Gilead has also started to market another hepatitis C drug known as Harvoni, which costs up to to $94,500 for a 12-week treatment.

The group I-MAK said that China's action could lead to the rejection of the California-based company's application elsewhere. The group has also filed challenge to patent applications of Gilead in Argentina, Brazil, Russia and Ukraine, arguing that the technology the company used is not really innovative given that other drug makers also develop similarly effective treatments.

IMAK estimates that around 40 million people suffers from hepatitis C in China , Argentina, Brazil, Russia and Ukraine and treating them could cost $270 billion based on the discounted price of $7,500  of the treatment offered to Brazil.

I-MAK co-founder  Tahir Amin said that his group hopes that other countries will follow China's decision to reserve patents for drugs that can be proven new.

 "We hope that other countries' patent offices do the right thing, reserving patents for drugs proven to be new and nonobvious and helping millions of people get the medicine they need to survive," Amin said.

The rejected application was for the inactive form of the drug known as prodrug, which converts into chemically active compounds once it is already in the body albeit the company hold the China patent to the drug's base compound known by its generic name sofosbuvir. The rejection does not open doors for copycat drugs to be made in the Chinese drug market.

Since it has come under fire because of the price of its drug, the California-based company has agreed to sell Sovaldi at lower prices in 91 developing counties.  The deal that the company offered is however criticized because middle-income countries were not included.

The World Health Organization says that most of the 150 million people with chronic hepatitis C infection, a condition caused by a virus that affects the liver and may lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer, reside in low and middle income countries and urged lower prices for Sovaldi.

Photo: Nick St. Charles | Flickr 

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