A new academic study says it is feasible that global hepatitis C treatment could be achieved if the manufacturing and monitoring costs of the new generation of drugs “were minimised in the same way as was done with HIV”, by lifting patents to allow them to made by generics firm.

The study, published in the journal Hepatology, notes that are 185 million people infected with the hepatitis C virus worldwide (about 160,000 in Britain) and is particularly problematic in low to middle income countries - 12 million people are infected in Egypt. Following in the footsteps of many others, they highlight the high prices for breakthrough new drugs, citing the combination of Gilead Sciences’ Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Daklinza (daclatasvir).

They argue that “by taking a bottom-up approach using information on the drugs’ raw materials, molecular structure and doses”, and if production was done at a large-enough scale, it may be possible to dramatically reduce the cost. The study estimated that to treat at least five million people with a Sovaldi and Daklinza combo could cost $122 per person.

Graham Cooke of Imperial College London and co-author of the paper, said that to break down the access barriers, “we need to learn lessons from the large-scale rollout of HIV treatment and accelerate the process”.

The other co-author, Liverpool University’s Andrew Hill, added that “by going back to the basic chemistry of these drugs, we have done some real detective work. As HCV drugs are similar to HIV treatments, “we assumed they have the potential to be made in the same way, producing the drugs at economies of scale in large factories and within a freely competitive market where patents have been lifted to allow generic production”.

Prof Hill concluded by saying that “we know from the experience of HIV treatment that charitable funders want to be able to donate a large sum of money and know it will treat a large amount of people. Our results indicate that this is possible by bringing down the price of HCV drugs for a set target for the number treated”.