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New Hepatitis C 'Cure' Hailed as a Breakthrough, Costs $1000 a Day

Illustration for article titled New Hepatitis C Cure Hailed as a Breakthrough, Costs $1000 a Day

An international study involving 380 patients has seen 90% of patients "cured" of Hepatitis C in the course of 12 weeks. Experts are calling the treatment a turning point in the treatment of the pernicious disease, which wreaks havoc on the livers of those it infects. Too bad it costs over $80,000 for a course of treatment.

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Above: Electron micrographs of hepatitis C virus purified from cell culture via Wikimedia Commons

The treatment goes by the name of Sovaldi and was created by Gilead Sciences. The BBC has a good rundown of the study:

Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Centre tested the new oral drug in 380 patients at 78 centres in Spain, Germany, England and the US in 2013. Two studies were carried out, one in patients for 12 weeks, and another, for 24 weeks. The patients had liver cirrhosis, indicating an advanced form of the virus.

After 12 weeks, 191 of 208 patients no longer had hepatitis C, which increased to 165 of 172 patients, or 96%, after 24 weeks. Lead researcher, Dr Fred Poordad said: "It is fantastic. I am so excited for the patients. There is finally hope for their future." He said the drug worked by targeting the protein that makes hepatitis C and stopping it from replicating. "Eventually the virus is extinguished," he said.

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All excellent news, of course. The bad news is that the treatment is ridiculously expensive. Gilead has proposed a global, tiered pricing system that is based on each country's per capita gross national income. According to Reuters, the cost for a full course of treatment in the U.K. is about $57,000; the price in Germany around $66,000; and the price in America around $84,000. That's close to $1,000 a pill for U.S. residents.

Gilead has been met with no small amount of resistance from the public and private sectors alike according to SFGate:

Since Sovaldi won federal approval in December, lawmakers, public and private insurers, pharmacy benefit managers and patient advocates have begun an all-out revolt. The dissent might represent a potential breaking point for a health care system used to paying out gobs of money for breakthrough drugs, industry officials and analysts say.

Meanwhile, the company's price scheme has been called "unreasonably high" and "obscene" by care providers like Kaiser Permanente and Molina Healthcare, respectively. Even Congress asked Gilead to justify the price of their drug.

But Gilead has stood firm on its price plan, arguing that their drug is worth the cost because it works faster and more effectively than anything else. Fortunately, it looks like they'll finally have some competition in the coming months.

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Read more about the study at the BBC. For more on the ongoing pushback to Gilead's pricing over at SFGate.

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DISCUSSION

#shrug Presumably, costs will go down over time. I'm a bit of a leftie on most issues, but I find it hard to get upset about the cost in itself — rather, I think that 1) there should be ongoing research to find ways to get that cost down, and this research should be encouraged — amongst other parties — by the government, and 2) there should be a strong public healthcare system that would cover the costs of drugs — even very expensive ones — for those people who need them.

And, of course, there should be strong oversight of medical firms to make sure they don't take advantage of this to over-charge. However, the numbers behind this treatment are impressive, and, assuming the results have been confirmed in independent trials, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with the company wanting to charge a lot for a brand-new, highly effective treatment that they just spent lots of time and resources developing.