Biotechnology company Chiron, which owns more than 100 patents related to the hepatitis C virus and HCV research and effectively single-handedly controls U.S. hepatitis C research, on Tuesday announced a change in its licensing policy for access to its HCV information, the Los Angeles Times reports. Some drug researchers have said they've abandoned plans to enter the HCV field because of Chiron's control of the patents. Chiron charges large sums to access its technology; licenses issued by Chiron in 2003 generated $1.8 billion in revenue for the company. Although much of the initial research into the discovery of HCV was conducted by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist, Chiron paid $1.9 million for exclusive rights to the discovery patent in 1990. However, the CDC announced in March that it is reviewing the agreement with the company after receiving complaints that other research organizations are unwilling to conduct HCV research.
To help ease mounting criticism that Chiron is prohibiting HCV drug development, company CEO Howard Pien on Tuesday announced that Chiron will no longer require license applicants to pay "upfront fees" and make annual payments to the company during early contractual stages. The first new licensing agreement under the new policy is with San Francisco-based biotechnology company Prosetta, which is reportedly saving millions of dollars during the first stages of its HCV research, Pien says.
Hepatitis C is a common coinfection among HIV-positive Americans and is emerging as a leading killer among people with advanced HIV disease. An estimated 4.5 million Americans are infected with HCV, which can cause liver damage, liver cancer, and death. It is commonly transmitted by contact with infected blood, but some doctors suspect it also may be passed through certain sex acts.