AT THE LIVER MEETING 2014

BOSTON (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS)Screening all adults born between 1945 and 1965 for hepatitis C and then treating all infected patients with oral drug regimens is the most cost effective strategy for society, because better outcomes more than offset the higher costs of wider screening and newer drugs, Dr. Zobair Younossi said.

A computer simulation analysis that compared four strategies for screening and treatment (plus the option of no screening or treatment) found that birth cohort screening and treatment of all hepatitis C virus–positive patients would save more than 4 million life-years at an incremental cost of $36,585 per quality-adjusted life-year (QALY), he reported at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.

That strategy produced an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio well below the widely accepted threshold of $50,000 per QALY used to define cost effectiveness in health care, said Dr. Younossi, professor of medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Inova Campus and chair of Liver Disease Services for Inova, Falls Church, Va.

In first-generation treatment with direct-acting antivirals – namely, triple therapy with protease inhibitors – the mean cost to achieve a sustained virologic response was $172,889, he said, “and we did not get a lot of pushback from the payers at that point.”

Risk-based screening for HCV has been recommended, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended birth cohort screening of people born between 1945 and 1965, the so-called baby boomers, Dr. Younossi said.

Still, studies suggest that less than 10% of patients with chronic HCV have been treated successfully, because of the failure of risk-based screening to identify all infected patients and the low efficacy and high rate of side effects from regimens based on interferon and ribavirin, he said.

Higher costs, lower risks

Dr. Younossi’s study used computer simulations to analyze the economic impact of various screening strategies followed by treatment with oral anti-HCV regimens.

The four strategies involved either risk-based screening or birth cohort screening, followed by treatment that either gave all HCV-infected patients oral regimens or that based treatment on staging, giving oral medications only to patients with significant fibrosis. The investigators also considered a fifth strategy: no screening and no treatment.

Birth cohort screening would lead to 1,162,323 patients being diagnosed with previously unknown chronic HCV, they estimated.

To estimate treatment costs, the investigators began with risk-based screening probabilities from a previous study: They assumed that 98% of patients would be medically eligible for treatment and have no contraindications to all-oral treatment regimens, and 98% of those treated would achieve a sustained virologic response for 12 weeks (SVR12), based on results of published trials.

The cost of oral direct-acting antiviral therapy was based on the cost of sofosbuvir – around $1,000 per day for 12 weeks, Dr. Younossi said. Costs for testing, staging, monitoring, and other data were taken from previous treatment models. The investigators calculated QALY from patients’ health utility reports in clinical trials.

Costs averaged approximately $88,000 per patient with birth cohort screening and treating all positive patients, $72,000 per patient with birth cohort screening and treatment based on staging, $60,000-$61,000 per patient for the risk-based screening strategies, and $53,000 per patient with no screening and no treatment.

The probabilities of cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma, or liver transplant were much lower with either birth cohort screening strategy, however, compared with the risk-based strategies or no screening. The probability of cirrhosis was approximately 1% with birth cohort screening and treating all positive patients, 7% with birth cohort screening and treatment based on staging, 55%-60% with the risk-based strategies, and 67% with no screening.

The risk of hepatocellular carcinoma was 4% with birth cohort screening and treating all positive patients, 5% with birth cohort screening and treatment based on staging, 15% with either risk-based screening strategy, and 20% with no screening. The risk of liver transplant was 0.6% with either birth cohort screening strategy, 3% with either risk-based screening strategy, and nearly 4% with no screening.

A total of 4% of patients would be expected to die of liver-related causes after birth cohort screening and treating all positive patients, compared with 7% liver-related mortality after birth cohort screening and staging-based treatment, 25% liver-related mortality in either of the risk-based screening groups, and 34% liver-related mortality with no screening.

HCV costlier than other conditions?

When considering governmental health policy and budgetary issues, Dr. Younossi explained, the cost of curing HCV is not very different from lifetime treatment costs for type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or breast cancer with metastases – and it’s significantly lower than lifetime treatment costs for HIV or relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.

As advocates for patients, physicians need to lobby officials so that “as they are dividing the pie, hepatology and HCV are represented,” he said. “These regimens are cost effective.”

The study was an underestimation of savings from birth cohort screening and treating all HCV positives, Dr. Younossi noted, because it did not incorporate an estimated $3 billion per year in savings from work productivity in the United States by curing HCV.

A physician in the audience countered Dr. Younossi’s call for more enlightened health policy supporting funding for HCV treatment, noting that drug companies also need to be pressured to lower the price of the newer drugs.

“The biggest bridge we have to cross is the cost of the drugs,” he said. “This is like denying somebody treatment for tuberculosis by making the cost of the drug too high.”

“I agree,” Dr. Younossi said. “We have to focus on our colleagues in the industry. But we also have to focus on our colleagues in Congress and the policymakers to make sure that, even if we get help from the industry side, we also get help from the policymakers to provide us” with the funding for access to HCV screening and treatment.

Dr. Younossi reported having no financial disclosures. One of his coinvestigators reported financial associations with Gilead and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

sboschert@frontlinemedcom.com

On Twitter @sherryboschert

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