Wonder drug for Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C was a known lethal disease for which there was no effective cure. In 2013, a new line of treatment was discovered and given FDA approval for use in the USA. The wonder drug quickly became one of the most successful treatments in the world, but at a steep price: Patients had to pay more than $1,000 for a single pill. And in order to get cured of Hepatitis C, the usual treatment takes 84 pills. You do the math.

Standard Interferon-based treatment

The standard treatment for liver patients before 2013 was quite unpleasant. It was based on interferon. Liver patients were given interferon intravenously on a daily basis.

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The additional interferon increased the ability of immune system to fight the virus in the liver. As surprisingly simple as this treatment might seem, there were some serious issues as far as patients are concerned:

  • Treatment had a success rate of about 50%.
  • Side effects included headaches and fatigue.
  • Patients had to inject themselves on a daily basis.
  • Treatment usually lasted for half a year.

Sticking yourself with a medical needle and having some headaches seems like a modest cost to pay for getting cured of a deadly disease. However, if you imagine having headaches for half a year while knowing that everything that is happening will only be successful in 50% of cases, you can see the problems Hepatitis C patients were facing.

New Hepatitis C treatment

It was not until December 2013 that the new line of antivirals arrived on the market.

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At first, Hepatitis C patients rejoiced and welcomed the new drugs that were based on the newly discovered antiviral molecule sofosbuvir.

There are some reasons why the new treatment was seen as such a success. Firstly, the cure rate is higher than 95% - in other words, the medicine works almost for everyone. Secondly, the new medicine is in the form of pills. There is no need for needles that are very unpopular. And thirdly, the standard treatment lasts only 12 weeks instead of half a year. 

While the effectiveness of the new medicines was much higher than that of the old interferon treatment, the price went up even more. Interferon treatment was considered expensive because it costs a few thousand dollars. Can you imagine the reaction of Hepatitis C patients when they found out that the price tag of the new drug is $94,500?

In the US the majority of insurance companies do not cover the costs of the new treatment. Just imagine walking to a local pharmacy with $94,500 in your suitcase because you'll die if you don't get the medicine.

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It looks like a drug deal scenario, and in all reality that's exactly what it is.

Treatment cost in India is only $900 per patient

Due to the extremely high price things escalated even further. People started wondering what kind of society we are, if after finding a wonder drug for a deadly disease we don't make it accessible to everybody in need of it. Insurance companies had a problem with the price as much as the patients. The price of Hepatitis C drugs might crumble the very health care system that is supposed to provide innovative medicines to the people.

Even the US government saw the problem. Since it is estimated that 3% of the 300 million US population are in need of such treatment, that means the price of treating the 10 million patients alone was around one trillion dollars. That is a figure that can cause headaches for the US health care system.

There is a bright light at the end of the tunnel. In short, Indian pharmaceutical companies were given plans and permissions to produce a generic version of the pills. This lowered the costs of Harvoni treatment in more than 100 third world countries.

For instance, you can go to India and obtain the same Hepatitis C medicines for only $900 if you know what doctors to talk to and what distributors to contact.  #News #Science