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Natco Pharma Ties Up With Gilead on Hepatitis C Drugs

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Natco Pharma Ties Up With Gilead on Hepatitis C Drugs

Natco Pharma Ltd said on Monday it has agreed a deal with Gilead Sciences Inc to supply generic copies of the U.S. drugmaker's chronic hepatitis C medicines, including $1,000-a-pill drug Sovaldi, in 91 developing nations.

Natco, a mid-sized player in India's crowded pharmaceutical industry, is the latest generic drugmaker to team up with Gilead on Sovaldi, having previously attempted to block the US firm from getting a patent for the breakthrough drug in India in the hope of producing a cheaper version on its own. In September, Gilead announced similar licensing deals with seven other generic drugmakers.

Sovaldi, chemically known as sofosbuvir, is a far more effective and better-tolerated treatment than older injection products, and racked up $1.7 billion in sales for Gilead in the fourth quarter alone.

But the firm has come under fire over the drug's price tag, its cost presenting a huge barrier in poorer countries. About 150 million people in the world live with chronic hepatitis C infection, most of them in low- and middle-income countries.

Drugs under the deal with Natco include sofosbuvir (Sovaldi), a combination of ledipasvir and sofosbuvir - a follow-on drug called Harvoni - and a treatment known as GS-5816, which is in late-stage clinical trials, Natco said in a statement.

As with the other deals, Natco will fix its own price for the generic versions, and will pay a royalty on sales to Gilead.

Natco had earlier joined the New York-based Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge (I-MAK), the Delhi Network of Positive People, and privately-held BDR Pharmaceuticals International Ltd in filing opposition to a patent on Sovaldi in India.

A Natco spokesman did not immediately respond to a request seeking further details on the deal announced on Monday.

In early reactions, some of those who had opposed a patent for Sovaldi said the Natco deal hadn't altered their position.

"We do not think this weakens our case. The drug's prices may be low under the deals, but they can be much lower without a patent, so we will continue to oppose it," said Vikas Ahuja, President of the Delhi Network of Positive People.

BDR Pharma Managing Director Dharmesh Shah declined to comment on Natco's Gilead deal, but said he was not seeking a similar contract.

Natco shares were up 3 percent in afternoon trade on Monday, while the wider Mumbai market was down 0.2 percent.

© Thomson Reuters 2015

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