BEXIMCO Pharma yesterday announced the launch of the generic version of the wonder drug Sofosbuvir for treating hepatitis C under the brand name Sofovir C.
Sofosbuvir is a revolutionary drug recently launched by Gilead Sciences Inc, under its brand Sovaldi, which is considered to be the most effective medication to treat hepatitis C with a cure rate of 90 percent.
The drug costs $1,000 (around Tk 78,000) per tablet in the developed market, making it one of the most expensive medicines in the world.
But a tablet will cost Tk 600 in Bangladesh, and the total cost of the therapy would be Tk 50,400 for a 12-week course compared to the whooping Tk 67 lakh in developed countries, Beximco said in a statement.
"We are proud to have played a role in introducing this breakthrough therapy at a price which is currently the lowest in the world,” Nazmul Hassan, managing director of Beximco Pharma, said.
“As the local drug is the world's cheapest, we will make sure that it is not smuggled out of Bangladesh. That's why it's a prescription-only medicine,” said Shawkat Haider, general manager of business development at Beximco Pharma.
“The drug will be distributed through our own distribution channel and will not be available in retail outlets.”
The medicine was first launched in Bangladesh in February by local drugmaker, Incepta Pharmaceuticals.
The generic drugmaker has beaten to the market a number of larger Indian competitors that were licensed by Gilead to produce low-cost versions of Sovaldi for 91 countries that are mostly poor.
Nations not covered by Gilead's licence, including Thailand, Malaysia and Morocco, and countries where Sovaldi is not patented could benefit from the new source of cheap copies.
Incepta also sells the drug at Tk 600 per tablet and it is not available in retail outlets.
Gilead is “aware of unauthorised generic versions of Sofosbuvir being offered in the marketplace,” Bloomberg News quoted Gilead as saying in a report in March.
“We're focused on enabling our 11 Indian generic partners to launch their authorised generic versions as soon as possible,” Gilead said at the time.
Hyderabad-based Natco Pharma Ltd, one of Gilead's licensees, launched its generic Sofosbuvir in Nepal in March. Natco had priced its generic medicine at 19,900 rupees ($318) for a bottle of 28 tablets in Nepal.
Gilead's hepatitis drugs, including Sovaldi and the related pill Harvoni which combines Sovaldi with another drug, have transformed the way liver infection is treated, with most patients being cured after a 12-week course.
Nearly a dozen Indian manufacturers are part of Gilead's licensing pact for low-income countries, including Cipla Ltd, Hetero Labs Ltd, Mylan Laboratories Ltd, Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd and Natco.
Sovaldi was Gilead's top-selling product last year, bringing in $10.3 billion in sales for the Foster City, California-based company.
The US Food and Drug Administration has recently given its approval to Beximco Pharma after inspecting the oral solid dosage facilities of the company.
In Bangladesh, hepatitis C emerges as a major health problem with nearly two million patients estimated to be infected with this virus, Beximco said in the statement.
Globally, it is estimated that 170-185 million people, about 3 percent of the world's population, are chronically infected with hepatitis C virus.