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Drugmaker strikes deal on generic form of costly hepatitis C drug

NEW DELHI — The maker of one of the costliest drugs in the world announced Monday that it had struck deals with seven generic drugmakers in India to sell lower-cost versions of the medicine — a $1,000-a-pill hepatitis C treatment — in poorer countries.

Gilead Sciences, based in California, also said it would begin selling its own version of the drug in India and other developing countries at a fraction of the price it charges in the United States.

The company intends to provide greater access to the medicine Sovaldi for most of the nearly 180 million infected worldwide with hepatitis C who do not live in rich countries. Some 350,000 people die every year of hepatitis C infections, most of them in middle- and low-income nations.

Sovaldi, in only its initial year on the market after gaining approval in the United States in December, is on pace to exceed $10 billion in sales in 2014, becoming one of the world’s best-selling drugs. Its high price has led to intense criticism even in the United States, where officials say it could wreck Medicaid budgets and insurers say it could cause increases in private insurance premiums.

But executives at Gilead say its price is similar to those of other hepatitis C treatments and is a bargain compared to the costs of liver failure and liver cancer, which it may prevent.

News that Gilead, which spends 19 percent of its revenue on research, can profit from sales of Sovaldi even when it cuts the drug’s price by 99 percent may further fuel controversy over the company’s profits and increase calls for the government to negotiate directly with drug makers for volume discounts in the federal Medicare program.

In the United States, Sovaldi costs $1,000 a pill or $84,000 for a typical 12-week course of treatment. It is likely to be sold for less than $1,800 for a 24-week course of treatment in India, where people are generally infected with a different form of the virus and treatment regimens can take twice as long.

Gilead plans to introduce the drug in India for about $10 a pill — 1 percent of the price in the United States, Gregg H. Alton, Gilead’s executive vice president, said at a news conference.

—Gardiner Harris, The New York Times

Google introduces phone for emerging markets

BANGALORE, India — Google chose India to introduce on Monday the first of a series of affordable smartphones under its Android One initiative, a bid by the company to win over the “next billion” users in emerging economies.

The phones, starting at 6,399 rupees, or about $105, are entering what already is the world’s third-largest smartphone market behind China and the United States. But it is also the fastest-growing: Demand is exploding as first-time phone buyers, as well as those making the transition from low-tech feature phones, rush to buy ever cheaper and more sophisticated devices.

Google said it intended to take Android One elsewhere in South Asia in the coming months, and to markets like Indonesia and the Philippines.

The world is increasingly going online through smartphones, said Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president for Android, Chrome and apps, as he introduced the line of phones in New Delhi. He added, “We’re making it easier for our partners to build phones that are not just great to use, but also affordable.”

Google joined with three Indian device makers, Micromax, Karbonn and Spice, and the phones will be sold only by the country’s biggest online retailers — Amazon India, Flipkart and Snapdeal.

India’s smartphone market is expected to double by 2018.

—Saritha Rai, The New York Times