Since the release of new therapies for Hepatitis C in the past two years, we are now seeing cures for the first time. These newer agents also cause much less side effects. In the past, patients often stopped taking their Hepatitis C medications, such as interferon, because adverse effects were intolerable. Hepatitis C now appears to be a curable disease as we are seeing many patients with eradicated viruses. According to federal statistics, there are approximately 2.7 million Americans currently infected. So cures are good news indeed!
We also know much more about Hepatitis C these days—specifically different genotypes exist. Not only are the genotypes well described, but also novel medications are targeted at the specific genotype of the Hepatitis C virus. Genotype 4, for example, is the least common form of the virus that people contract. But thanks to research, the FDA approved a combination pill in July 2015 for its treatment. Also, another combination was cleared for the use against Genotype 4, which is the much more aggressive sub-type.
Unfortunately, despite the advent of these innovative therapies, many patients still are not receiving them. One huge hurdle that needs to be addressed is cost. Many insurance companies are not covering the costs, and these are quite expensive medications. Harvoni, for example, costs approximately $1,125 per pill, leading to a total cost for a 12 week-course of about $94,000. And other newer agents are nearly as expensive. Patients simply cannot afford to pay for these medications out-of-pocket. Patient education is needed to demonstrate that, while yes, these treatments are expensive, they can also eradicate Hepatitis C, which will save costs, as well as lives, over time. Lower hospitalizations rates due to the complications of the disease, including cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma, can be achieved. A way needs to be found to cover the costs—or many patients who could benefit will go without.
Pharma Must Raise Awareness
At the same time, many patients and healthcare providers are simply unaware of these new treatments. Pharmaceutical companies need to provide the information about these medications to those in the healthcare setting. Primary care doctors, as well as specialists, also need to understand that these medications can be curative. Many patients with Hepatitis C have tried treatments before that either failed or made them too sick to continue with them. Patients and physicians should know that these new medications are not just a “different flavor” of past Hepatitis C medications. The hope is that these medications will work and offer much less in the way of unpleasant side effects.
While novel medications are being discovered all the time, it is uncommon to find one that is truly curative of a disease that we have long been battling—with limited success. But that is just what the newer medications are proving to be: Curative. We need to get the word out about their success—and reduced adverse effects. And everyone in the healthcare arena must find a way to make them available to all patients infected with Hepatitis C. Do we really want to waste this innovation?