KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 14 ― A medical think-tank urged the Health Ministry today to take advantage of the voluntary licence offered for a Hepatitis C medicine, in order to increase access and open doors to a low-cost drug in the country.
The Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy said Putrajaya should consider negotiating for the best possible deal with Sofosbuvir manufacturer Gilead Sciences, including technical support, concessions, and additional assistance.
“This hard-won development would see increased access to a treatment which will improve the quality of life for patients and most importantly, save lives,” its chief executive Azrul Mohd Khalib said in a statement.
“It represents a moral victory for the government which has worked hard to enhance access for Malaysians to innovative drugs and treatment to treat emerging health challenges.”
The Star reported today that the Cabinet has approved government-use licences to bring in generics of Sofosbuvir, ensuring that the medicine will be available in public health facilities.
A government-use or compulsory licence means cheaper generic medication can be produced without the drug patent holder’s consent; whereas voluntary licensing, while allowing for significant price reductions, can set price ranges for the pharmaceutical product, depending on terms of the licence contract.
“Implementing a government-use license would be outside that framework. It could represent a pyrrhic approach to a long-term problem with possible consequences and complications,” Azrul said.
He listed them as reduced access to future innovative drugs for other diseases, including non-communicable one, the perception of being unfriendly to innovation and intellectual property rights, becoming a less attractive location for clinical trials, and being on the watch list of certain trading partners.
“It is critical to ensure that treatment is affordable for the government and accessible to the patient. Patients also need to actually be found and treated,” he said.
“With infection to disease progression taking up as long as 20 years, screening and treatment adherence could be just as critical as cost in ensuring a successful outcome in the fight against Hepatitis C. These issues should not be neglected or kept at the wayside.”
With the Health Ministry’s move, around 400,000 Hepatitis C patients in the country will reportedly benefit from this move, especially since a full treatment costs around RM300,000.
As it is a middle-income country, Malaysia does not receive special pricing for drugs by pharmaceutical companies.