The European Patent Office (EPO) on 13 September ruled in favour of pharmaceutical company Gilead and maintained the company’s patent on hepatitis C drug sofosbuvir. The patent, however, is maintained in an amended form. Civil society involved in the case expressed dismay over the outcome and its potential effect on European drug prices.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF – Doctors Without Borders), announcing the decision, said it “is gravely disappointed with the European Patent Office’s decision today to uphold US pharmaceutical corporation Gilead’s Sciences’ patent related to the key hepatitis C drug sofosbuvir.”
Patent EP 2604620 was challenged by groups in 17 European countries, including Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF); Médecins du Monde (MdM); the European Public Health Alliance (EU-wide); Salud Por Derecho (Spain); AIDES (France); Praksis (Greece); and Access to Medicines Ireland (IPW, Health & IP, 12 September 2018).
The civil society groups intend to appeal the decision.
The EPO did not respond by press time. [UPDATE: The EPO confirmed that after hearing all the parties, the EPO’s opposition division decided to maintain the patent in an amended (reduced) form. According to an EPO source, the full grounds for this decision will be written up and published in the file on the EPO website in the next few weeks. The decision can be appealed by the parties within two months from the date of notification of the decision at the EPO’s Boards of Appeal, the source added.]
Gaelle Krikorian, head of Policy, MSF Access Campaign, said in the release, “Today’s decision is a clear illustration of how multinational pharmaceutical corporations like Gilead abuse the patent system so they can shut out any competition and continue unfettered to charge exorbitant prices. We will appeal today’s decision as we strongly believe that the European Patent Office should have revoked the patent.”
According to MSF, “the decision allows Gilead to retain a patent on a pharmaceutically-inactive component that appears in the body during the synthesis of sofosbuvir.” “The results is that Gilead’s monopoly still stays in the way to access more affordable generic versions in Europe.”
By Catherine Saez