In April 2015 Kyrgyzstan’s president took the necessary step of signing in a new patent law. This was the result of research and advocacy by civil society groups, and as a result, life-saving drugs are now accessible, which were previously out of reach.
These drugs include more effective treatment options for Hepatitis C. Before the new amendments were made law there was only one drug available. The monopoly of Pegasys (pegylated interferon) was coming to an end just as the amendments to the law were being agreed upon in 2015. This prevented the pharmaceutical company from extending its patents. Without the new amendments, unmerited patents would likely have been granted and would have allowed the costly monopoly to continue.
At a cost of $25,000, the drug was out of reach of the majority of those who needed it. This created a situation where many people with a curable condition were instead living with effects of the disease and running the risk of lethal consequences for lack of treatment. The updated law means that new, affordable, generic drugs are already available to treat people with Hepatitis C.
Building a strong case
The move by parliament was the result of years of advocacy from civil society groups including our partner the Harm Reduction Association Network, or the Partnership Network as it is known in Kyrgyzstan.
“Alongside other groups, we reached out to key members of parliament who were most receptive to resolving this issue. Significantly, this included members of parliament who have been treated for Hepatitis C,” says Aibar Sultangaziev, Director of the Partnership Network
“It was also necessary to bring the public on board, to convince people that these changes to the patent law were necessary and explain how the previous intellectual property regime was limiting people’s lives.”
The new patent law was signed despite strong opposition from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and Kyrgyzstan’s State Service of Intellectual Property and Innovation.
Research produced by the Partnership Network has been instrumental to their successful advocacy work, shaping the country’s Hepatitis C program and determining funding priorities. This includes studies on the state of Hepatitis C in the country, anti-monopoly laws, and procurement barriers for Hepatitis C, HIV, TB and cancer medications. The regulatory system was primed for effective treatment, except price continued to impede access.
The new drugs
Three generic drugs have been introduced to treat Hepatitis C, resulting in a dramatic reduction in the price of treatment. These are all versions of sofosbuvir, two from India, and one from Egypt. Sofosbuvir, which is on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines, cost $12,000 for a three-month treatment. However, there are now generic versions on the market available for as little as $1,000.
The generic versions of sofosbuvir are not only essential because of their lower costs, but like the branded version, are also easier to administer, have far fewer side effects than other Hepatitis C medications, and have a 95% curability rate. At this price, medicine is more accessible for the estimated 220,000 people with Hepatitis C in Kyrgyzstan.