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30 March 2016Americas

Bernie Sanders urges government to intervene over prostate cancer patent

US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has urged the government to hold a hearing to determine whether a patent covering a prostate cancer drug should be licensed in a bid to lower its price.

According to a letter co-signed by Sanders, the price of Xtandi (enzalutamide), marketed by Astellas Pharma, is too high.

In the letter—sent to Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Sylvia Burwell, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services—Sanders, along with several Democratic senators, has urged the NIH to intervene and hold a public meeting on the issue.

The hearing would then determine whether the government should override the patent in order to keep its costs down.

The drug, according to the letter, costs $129,000 in the US but is sold in Japan and Sweden for $39,000 and Canada for $30,000.

Under the Bayh-Dole Act, federal agencies can enact what are known as ‘march-in rights’. These are granted to authorities to license a patent when action is necessary to “alleviate health or safety needs which are not reasonably satisfied” or if the invention is not “available to the public on reasonable terms”.

The letter, sent on March 28, argued that this is a case that warrants such action.

It added that the patent covering the drug should be overridden because the drug was developed at the University of California with help of taxpayers’ money before it was licensed to Medivation, a biotechnology company that agreed a marketing deal for the drug with Astellas.

“When Americans pay for research that results in a safe and effective drug, an unreasonably high cost should not limit their access to it. New treatments are meaningless if patients cannot afford them,” the letter said.

It added: “We think that a public hearing is important to allow the public to engage in a dialogue with the Department of Health and Human Services and NIH in order to better understand its position on the use of march-in to address excessive prices.”

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