AbbVie sues NHS over hep C drug procurement scheme

American pharma firm AbbVie is taking NHS England to court over a procurement process aimed to help England become the first country in the world to eradicate the hepatitis C virus (HCV). 

AbbVie started proceedings in London’s Technology and Construction Court this summer. The Health Service Journal (HSJ) reports that NHS England asked the pharmaceutical industry in January this year to “work with us” in its drive to eliminate the incidence of hepatitis C by 2025.

AbbVie, it is understood, claims the NHS breached its duty to treat all bidders fairly in what has been dubbed the ‘largest ever’ drug procurement process, worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

NHS England has denied the allegations.

The NHS wants to buy drugs in bulk to keep costs down in its bid to eliminate hepatitis C five years ahead of the World Health Organisation’s 2030 target. It had hoped to begin prescribing the lower-cost drugs in October but HSJ says it has learned that the programme will be on the back burner until January at the earliest.

Three-year contracts would be awarded to successful pharma firms, with the NHS able to extend these by another two years.

Due to both parties being unable to divulge information prior to a court appearance, the details are unclear. AbbVie and NHS England are currently preparing for the trial, the date for which has not yet been announced. The case has, so far, been held in private.

HSJ also reported that an AbbVie spokeswoman said: “Abbvie has entered into legal action against NHS England. We cannot comment any further as the legal proceedings are not yet concluded.”

Pharma company Gilead Sciences pioneered directly acting anti-viral drugs to treat hepatitis C with its medicine Sovaldi (sofosbuvir). And, in September Gilead announced that low cost versions of its hepatitis drugs Epclusa (sofosbuvir+velpatasvir) and Harvoni (ledipasvir+sofosbuvir) will launch in January.

Janssen Pharmaceutica and MSD Pharmaceutical are also jostling for the shrinking market, as fewer people are eligible for treatment – due to being cured – and the greater number of fast-acting treatments available.

The new goal for pharma, therefore, is to target those who are undiagnosed. Approximately 200,000 people live with hepatitis C in the UK, but it is estimated that around half of these are undiagnosed.

US-based AbbVie’s Mavyret (glecaprevir/pibrentasvir) was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in August last year.





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