Science, Now + Beyond

New hepatitis C medications offer low-cost alternative for treatment

Imagine this: You get sick with an illness that threatens your ability to function, and maybe even threatens your life, but you’re not able to afford the medication that you need to get well again.

Imagine this: You get sick with an illness that threatens your ability to function, and maybe even threatens your life, but you’re not able to afford the medication that you need to get well again. Unfortunately, this situation is a reality for millions of people.  I know how difficult it was for my grandparents to be able to afford all the medication that they needed, and it broke my heart to see them worry about it.

Medications can often be extremely expensive, costing hundreds or thousands of dollars, even with support from insurance companies. The costs associated with purchasing medication can often push people into making the tough decision of refusing medications in order to not worsen their financial situation. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, millions of Americans are unable to afford all of the medication that they need, with roughly 8% of Americans choosing not to take their prescribed medication due to cost factors.

Naturally, the issue of not being able to afford medications is also a global issue, although research is limited to how many overall are struggling to afford proper medication.

One of the diseases whose medication oftentimes come with a hefty price is Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is a viral infection that can often be asymptomatic (showing no symptoms) but can eventually lead to serious liver damage and cause serious weight loss and fatigue issues. A hepatitis C infection can also be deadly; roughly 400,000 people die each year from their infections. Unfortunately, although roughly 71 million people worldwide have hepatitis C, only three million people are receiving treatments for it. In fact, more people are infected with hepatitis C each year than will begin their treatment for the condition.

Naturally, the high costs of the most effective hepatitis C medications can be considered a reason as to why hepatitis C cases remain so widely untreated.

According to CNBC, in 2017, six of the most expensive 10 medications on the market were for the treatment of hepatitis C, and hepatitis C drugs were the top three most expensive medications overall. The most expensive hep C drug on the market was more than $80,000 dollars at the time the article in CNBC was published. Even with assistance from insurance companies, those medications are still too costly for a lot of people to afford, meaning that they have to forgo needed treatments.

That’s why a nonprofit is seeking to get a new hep C drug combination on the market that will be significantly cheaper than the drugs being offered by pharmaceutical companies. The nonprofit Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDI) and an Egyptian pharmaceutical company, Pharco Pharmaceuticals, are working together on developing the treatment, which will include a combination of a the drug ravidasvir, made by Pharco, and a generic version of another hepatitis C drug named Sovaldi, which was developed by Gilead Pharmaceuticals. So far, the drugs have been priced at $300 for a 12-week supply.

Although the drug combination still requires more testing before it’ll become widely available, early trials have indicated that the drugs are overwhelmingly successful in treating hep C. In the early trials, 96% to 97% of the patients were cured after the 12-weeks, including those with more advanced staged illnesses and serious liver damage. The effectiveness of the DNDI’s medication combo is comparable to the effectiveness of the other, more expensive, medications on the market, meaning that DNDI’s treatment will work just as well for thousands less than the traditional hep C treatments.

A cheaper treatment option could help millions of people get help for their hep C infections. For example, the $300 cost for the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative’s medications represent almost a 100% decrease in price for hep C treatment in Malaysia, which makes the medications much more affordable for those in need. The DNDI’s treatment once approved, will have the potential to benefit so many people who otherwise would have to forgo treating their hepatitis C, and should be celebrated.

  • Kate Maxwell

    Kate is a Senior at NC State University in Raleigh, pursuing a B.A. in Political Science with a double minor in Sociology and Journalism. She is a member of Pi Sigma Alpha, the National Residence Hall Honorary and Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity. When not in a meeting, she enjoys hanging out with friends, sleeping as much as possible, and talking about her love of Tom Hiddleston.