Médécins du Monde (MdM) has filed a “brief in opposition” with the Munich-based European Patent Office, which awards patents covering 40 European countries, the NGO announced on Tuesday.
The case, which MdM says is the first of its kind in Europe, concerns sofosbuvir, marketed as Solvadi, a frontline treatment for hepatitis C.
A standard 12-week course of Solvadi in France costs 41,000 euros, a price that means that it is effectively “rationed”, MdM says.
Gilead Sciences, which makes Solvadi, has not commented on MdM’s action but in 2014 justified the price by arguing that Solvadi provides a shorter and more effective therapy than previous treatments.
"Gilead is abusing its position as patent-holder to demand intolerably high prices from health-care systems" in Europe and elsewhere, MdM’s Jean-François Corty told the AFP news agency.
The case could take up to two years and aims to force Gilead to accept the marketing of cheaper generic versions of the molecule.
Gilead Sciences quadrupled its profits to 12.1 billion dollars (10.7 billion euros) in 2014.
It bought the Pharmasset start-up, which developed Solvadi largely on the basis of research at the UK’s Cardiff University, for 11 billion dollars (9.7 billion euros) in 2011.
Gilead has filed other patents for the drug and other companies are putting similar molecules on the market at similar prices but MdM says that cost prevents them take further actions.
"We are defending universal access to healthcare: the struggle against health inequality involves safeguarding a healthcare system based on solidarity," Corty says on MdM's website.