A program aimed at eliminating hepatitis C in the UK has led to a resentment – and a lawsuit – between the pharmaceutical company AbbVie and NHS England.
It all stems from a purchasing process that was started earlier this year by the NHS to record deliveries of hepatitis C virus (HCV) medicines to start a major treatment campaign that has now been rejected, reports Health Service Journal.
Details are still sketchy with both parties unwilling to talk before a court date, but AbbVie alleges that NHS England violated the procurement rules when seeking HCV drug suppliers that would be used in the program, thought to be that they were valued for hundreds of millions. lb.
The plan is to turn the UK into the first country in the world to relocate from HCV with a target date of 2025, and in January NHS England called on companies to offer their medicines at reduced rates as part of a massive procurement drive . – which it said was the biggest that it had ever done.
At the time, it was reported that the intention was to reduce the cost of treating HCV to around £ 10,000 from £ 35,000 in exchange for initial three-year supply contracts, with an option to extend for another two years. AbbVie accuses NHS England of not treating all bidders fairly.
The plan was only made possible by enormous advances in the treatment of HCV and in particular new direct acting antiviral drugs – a pioneer of Gilead Sciences with its Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) and followed by additional therapies from, among others, AbbVie, Johnson & Johnson and MSD – which made it possible to cure infections with only a few weeks treatment.
Prior to that, patients had to undergo months of treatment with interferon-based drugs that had lack of efficacy and came with serious side effects.
Gilead was the undisputed leader of the market with Sovaldi – who achieved a $ 10 billion turnover in 2014 for the first full year in the market thanks to the accumulated demand for treatment – as well as follow-up combinations such as Harvoni (sofosbuvir / ledipasvir)) and Epclusa (sofosbuvir / velpatasvir) that was effective against all HCV genotypes.
Medicines from AbbVie – including the universal & # 39; treatment Maviret (glecaprevir / pibrentasvir) – and products from other competitors never reached those heights, but still enjoyed profitable sales. However, the overall HCV market is now in a sharp decline – especially as the new drugs were so successful that the pool of eligible patients has dried up. Efforts are now focused on identifying and treating undiagnosed HCV cases.
NHS England's plan was to treat approximately 5,000 HCV patients by October this year, but that deadline has expired without the program officially launching, according to HSJ, which states that NHS England has confirmed that the purchasing process is still in progress. It is not clear whether the lawsuit is the reason for the delayed start.
There have been signs of progress in HCV, with Public Health England reporting in the summer that last year, hepatitis C-related terminal liver disease deaths fell by 11% in 2017 compared to the previous year, although the number of cases was still stable in about 2,000 new cases – as it has done since 2011. About 160,000 people in the UK are infected with HCV.
Although the decline in mortality suggests that more people are gaining access to drug therapy, PHE said that more needs to be done, and it insisted "anyone who has ever injected drugs, even once or a long time ago, had a tattoo or a medical treatment abroad where appropriate hygiene procedures may not have been followed or a blood transfusion has been performed before the hepatitis C screening was performed to be tested ".
Meanwhile, HCV Elimination Days are being organized in some areas to bring together commissioners, clinicians, drug workers and other interested parties about broader access to treatment.