On World Hepatitis Day, Activists Target Merck’s Board of Directors For Price Gouging On Hepatitis C Drugs

People With Hepatitis C & Allies Hold Die-Ins Outside the Home and Office of Board Members To Demand Access to Lifesaving Treatment

Community activists living with hepatitis C (HCV) and their allies targeted two prominent members of Merck’s Board of Directors as part of a new campaign to pressure Merck to drop the price of Victrelis, the first new generation of treatment for HCV to become available in nearly ten years when it was approved by the FDA in May. Victrelis can cost $80,000 in combination with the company’s peginterferon drug.

“Hepatitis C doesn’t have to be a death sentence, but Merck’s greed means it will be for many who can’t afford their new drug,” said Mario Arce, a VOCAL-NY leader living with chronic HCV infection. “I’m not out here just for me, but also for millions of other people like me living with hepatitis C who need affordable treatment options.”

Activists visited Merck Board members Rochelle Lazarus at her Upper East Side house and Leslie Brune at his Midtown office for Broadridge Financial Solutions, holding a die-in outside the buildings, blocking traffic and carrying signs saying “Merck Is Making a Killing Off People With Hepatitis C.” The group pledged to continue targeting Merck officials at their homes and offices to protest the high price of the company’s hepatitis C treatment. The actions today followed a protest at a Merck public relations event with the Allman Brothers band outside the Beacon Theatre on July 27th.

New treatments for HCV are seen as a significant area of future profits for pharmaceutical companies and there are several promising drugs in the development pipeline, raising concerns that Merck’s pricing strategy sets a dangerous precedent for new drugs that may be approved. Many people living with HCV also have other co-occurring health issues, such as HIV/AIDS and blood-clotting disorders, which already require expensive medication.

In addition to price gouging with their new hepatitis C treatment, Merck has an embarrassing history of tax dodging, highly restrictive patient assistance programs, and excluding marginalized communities (including African Americans and Latinos, drug users, methadone patients and people living with HIV) from hepatitis C research trials.

Activists are making four demands for Merck through the campaign:

• Drop the price for Victrelis and peginterferon treatment
• Fix their patient assistance program
• End discrimination in research trial enrollment
• Stop tax avoidance schemes that are starving funds for Medicaid and Medicare

An estimated 3.2 million people in the United States have chronic HCV infection, which can lead to serious liver disease if left untreated, and 12,000 people die nationwide each year due to HCV-related liver disease. Injecting drugs with shared syringes or equipment is the leading cause of HCV infection, and the majority of people who inject drugs are infected. One-third of people living with HIV are also co-infected with HCV, which further increases the risk for liver disease.

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