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Improving Hepatitis C Start Rates

Sharon Ferrer

Sharon Ferrer

Guest Blog: Sharon O. Ferrer, Director of Pharmaceutical Contracting at BioPlus Specialty Pharmacy

Four million people in the United States are infected with the hepatitis C virus. Many of them do not even know their disease status, since this virus can remain silent and symptom-less in the body for up to two decades after initial infection. Unfortunately, untreated hepatitis C infection can progress to cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even results in premature death.

But what about the people who do know that they have this dangerous infection? Surprisingly, not all of them start treatment with the current standard hepatitis C treatment regimen, which involves the use of interferon, ribavirin, and a protease inhibitor (either boceprevir or telaprevir). In fact, most do not even start treatment.

A new study based on 360,000 U.S. military veterans diagnosed with hepatitis C has recently come out, revealing that three out of four infected people don’t start hepatitis C treatment. Accounting for the hesitancy of many people to start the current treatment regimen is the long list of difficult side effects that can develop from this treatment, particularly from the injections of interferon.

In fact, this study showed that of the one in four diagnosed patients who started treatment, only 16.4 percent were cured of the infection, indicating that many gave up the treatment before the 48 weeks needed to get rid of the virus for most people. Sticking with treatment is tough, but does pay off. The people who persevered and were cured were found to have a 45 percent less chance of dying from any cause, compared to those who didn’t start or didn’t stick with treatment.

Treatment Getting Easier

Good news is afoot for those infected with hepatitis C. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just approved a new treatment and is on-track to approve additional new treatments for hepatitis C; several of these treatments no longer include injections or severe side effects. There’s even icing on this cake: treatment times should be much shorter than the 48 weeks that has been standard.

The new hepatitis C treatments which have reached or could soon make it to your specialty pharmacy include:

  1. Gilead’s Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) received final FDA approval on Friday, December 6, 2013
  2. Janssen Therapeutics’ Olysio (simeprevir), a protease inhibitor, was approved by the FDA on November 22, 2013
  3. Boehringer Ingelheim’s faldaprevir and deleobuvir
  4. Bristol-Myers Squibb’s combination of daclatasvir, asunaprevir, and a not-yet named drug referred to as BMS-791325

With these new medications, it’s likely that the number of people starting and sticking with treatment will go up – and the disheartening number (4 million!) of hepatitis C-infected Americans should correspondingly go way down.


What do you think

I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments section below.


Gordon S. Study finds too few with hepatitis C start or stick with treatment. HealthDay News. November 6, 2013.


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