New HCV Treatments: Corporate + Healthcare or Corporate vs. Healthcare?

By Uloop Writer on May 15, 2014

The Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) has turned into a pressing public health issue. With no known vaccine to prevent the disease, HCV is spreading rapidly, remaining the leading cause of liver cancer. Although HCV has unmet medical needs, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as well as recent breakthroughs in HCV treatments make this junction more hopeful than ever. Despite testing being covered under the ACA, financial strains are still prevalent.  HCV costs $30 billion dollars in annual medical costs and is expected to triple by 2030 unless a drastic change is seen.

Hepatitis C kills more Americans than HIV.
(photo: wiki media)

Gilead Sciences Inc. has a hepatitis C treatment like none other before. In fact, clinical trials using the drug Sovaldi yield a 90% cure rate. Last December the FDA approved the drug to be used in combination with injections of ribavirin and/or interferon. Gilead is now pushing forward with a once daily prescription of Sovaldi and Ledipasvir. FDA approval is still needed but if passed, this will provide a cure for a subset of hepatitis C patients while forestepping the tremendous side effects of ribavirin and interferon. This major breakthrough is only the beginning, as Gilead is working to combine Sovaldi with the drug GS-5816. If successful, the treatment would be universal, working to heal all subtypes of Hepatitis C patients.

Unfortunately, Sovaldi comes with a hefty price tag. The 12 week regimen costs $84,000 and in some states is currently limited to only the sickest patients under Medicaid. Gilead argues that the cost of Sovaldi versus the 500K cost of a liver transplant or 6-12 month treatment with severe side effects from ribavirin and interferon is mild in comparison. The investment seems worthy, given that financial assistance programs are available for people in need and on government health care programs.

The sincerity seems convincing until the statistics show $8 million dollars being pulled in 2013 bonuses by the company’s top five officers. It’s a tough line to swallow. Critics argue that the treatment will only cure patients if they are able to afford it. Gilead’s compassion for their sick customers runs thin considering the rocketing financial burden. The costs of developing and packaging the drug are necessary, but the fat profit margin remains questionable. To truly be successful in administering therapeutic cures, biotech companies must merge the cost with consumer needs.

To read more about the Hepatitis C epidemic click here

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