Gilead patents on costly hepatitis C drug challenged in five countries

By Brendan Pierson NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. group is trying to block patents in five countries for Gilead Sciences Inc's costly hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, in a bid to give almost 60 million afflicted people access to cheaper generic versions. In Argentina, Brazil, China, Russia and Ukraine, challenges have been filed against Gilead's patents or patent applications, the New York-based Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge, or I-MAK, said on Wednesday. In all the countries except China, the group is working with local activist groups. I-MAK said more than 59 million people in those countries have hepatitis C. Sovaldi, a highly effective treatment for hepatitis C, costs $1,000 per pill in the United States, or $84,000 for a typical 12-week course. California-based Gilead agreed last year to make the drug available for lower prices in 91 developing countries, but I-MAK said it remained out of reach for millions of low-income people around the world. In January, India's patent office refused to grant Gilead a patent on Sovaldi, finding it was not inventive enough. Gilead is appealing the ruling. Earlier this month, the United Nations' World Health Organization added Sovaldi to its essential medicines list and urged lower prices, especially in middle income countries. Gilead did not respond to requests for comment. (Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Ted Botha and David Gregorio)