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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”


Brazil Wages War on Hepatitis C Drug Pricing

Brazil Wages War on Hepatitis C Drug Pricing
By Katherine Baldwin

BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) - Brazil's Health Ministry, emboldened by its
successful fight for cheaper AIDS (news - web sites) medicines, is telling
makers of a hepatitis C drug to slash prices or face having their patents

Brazil wants pharmaceutical giants Schering-Plough Corp. and Roche Holding
AG to reduce the price of the hepatitis C drug pegylated interferon,
allowing Latin America's largest country to cure more people with the
disease at a much lower cost.

The drug, sold by Schering-Plough as PegIntron and by Roche as Pegasys, is
up to 27.5 times more expensive than the standard interferon now used by
Brazil's public health service.


Using the drugs could increase the number of Brazilians cured of the illness
to 45 percent from 36 percent, the Health Ministry said.

At current prices, the drugs would cost Brazil 200 million reais ($83
million) per month to treat 7,000 hepatitis C sufferers, compared with 15
million reais ($6.3 million) it currently spends monthly, the ministry said.

The ministry will be looking to tap the international clout it won when it
strong-armed drug firms to lower AIDS drug prices. Its tough stance on AIDS
drugs won acclaim for Brazil and for Health Minister Jose Serra, expected to
run for president in October elections.

Hepatitis C, a bloodborne infection, is one of the major causes of chronic
liver disease and can lead to transplants, cirrhosis and liver cancer.

The ministry took up talks with the companies in December and negotiations
are expected to continue this month.

Schering-Plough and Roche in Brazil, the United States and Switzerland
declined to comment on negotiations.

Last year, Brazil pressured Switzerland's Roche and the United States' Merck
& Co. Inc. to cut prices on their AIDS drugs by 40 percent to 65 percent
after threatening to copy them locally.

A 1999 Brazilian (news - web sites) decree allows the country to issue a
compulsory license to produce medicines locally in cases of a national
emergency or out of public interest.


In its fight against AIDS, for which it has been held up as a model for the
developing world, Brazil is now challenging Abbott Laboratories Inc. to
lower the price on its HIV (news - web sites) drug Kaletra or see its patent

Brazil produces eight out of the 12 drugs used in an anti-AIDS drugs
cocktail distributed free to patients. But high prices of the remaining
drugs raises the cost of treatment.