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Good Riddanace: It’s Time to Say Goodbye to Hep C
Earlier last month, Pamela Anderson took to Instagram to announce some good news: After 16 years of living with the hepatitis C virus, she had finally been cured.
Recent advances in the number and types of medications available to treat Hep C make such a cure possible, and these advances have made treatment regimens easier to tolerate and more effective.
A Curative Breakthrough
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that causes inflammation of the liver and, up until a few years ago, there were only two drugs approved by the FDA for its treatment: interferon and ribavirin. These drugs yielded lower success rates and produced some serious side effects, such as fatigue, flu-like symptoms, stomach problems, skin rashes, anxiety and depression.
Fortunately, treatment is getting faster and simpler, and there are four new drugs that have been approved to treat the virus: Sovaldi and Harvoni, made by Gilead Sciences; Viekira Pak, made by AbbVie; and Daklinza, made by Bristol-Myers Squibb. They are tremendously effective – boasting a cure rate in more than 90 percent of patients – and produce very little side effects.
Some individuals can be cured in as little as eight weeks, which is a huge difference from just a few years ago when treatment took over a year.
In addition, curing the patient substantially lowers his or her risk of liver cancer, liver failure and the need for a liver transplant.
However, there are some drawbacks to these new drugs, one being they are tremendously costly. For example, Sovaldi is $84,000 for a standard 12-week course of treatment, which breaks down to about $1,000 for each pill, taken daily, while Harvoni is even more expensive, with a list price of about $95,000 for a 12-week course of treatment. As a result, insurers are rushing to figure out how to pay for these treatment options, and most state Medicaid programs have placed restrictions on the drugs’ availability in an effort to control costs.
Restrictions include requiring that patients have advanced liver disease before they can obtain the drugs, and requiring patients to abstain from alcohol or drugs for at least a year before treatment. However, several other new hepatitis C treatments are awaiting FDA approval. The hope is that, with more competition in the marketplace, the cost of these drugs will go down and ultimately increase accessibility to care.
Offering Much-Needed Hope
Despite these potential barriers, it is a hopeful time for people with hepatitis C, as treatment is rapidly changing for the better. Now that more effective therapies are available, patients can be treated more easily before there’s significant damage done to the liver.
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