December 8, 2013
Hepatitis C has been potentially curable for decades, but it's hardly been easy. "I feel like I'm slowly killing myself," said one of my patients, memorably, during week 24 of a planned bazillion-week course of interferon-ribavirin. (Actually it was only 48 weeks, but seemed like a bazillion weeks.)
Then in 2011 came the addition of telaprevir or boceprevir to the interferon-ribavirin, which made a cure more likely, but the treatment even worse. Rashes. Need for fatty meals. Tons of pills. Taste disturbance. Anal discomfort. ("Like shitting glass," another memorable quote.) Anemia. And for the providers, having to manage these side effects and the complex "response-guided therapy" algorithms was no picnic.
Now, with the approval of simeprevir in November and in particular sofosbuvir Friday, HCV cure just got a whole lot easier. Both are one pill a day. Both have far fewer side effects than any existing HCV drug. Sofosbuvir adds the benefit of having almost zero important drug-drug interactions. (Simeprevir has many.)
The main problem with these new treatments is, frankly, their cost. They are very expensive -- 12 weeks of simeprevir will be $65,000, of sofosbuvir $80,000. These costs are offset somewhat by reduced need for monitoring with safer therapies, a shorter course of interferon and ribavirin (if you go that route), and presumably down the road, prevented cases of cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma, and liver transplantation.
And of course, few individuals will actually pay full price out of pocket for these treatments, just like few actually pay for their MRIs or their angioplasties or their stay in the ICU. Treating HCV is not like cosmetic surgery; it's potentially lifesaving. And as with other expensive but lifesaving treatments, we're hoping there will be generous patient-assistance programs for those who can't pay.
But for those without coverage, people in other countries, or those charged with managing pharmacy budgets, this cost is a major hurdle.
All of which leaves me thinking that as of December 8, 2013, these are the best options for genotype 1 HCV infection (cost estimates approximate):
All are a lot better than what we had just last week. All of them contain sofosbuvir. And all are expensive.
What is the best way to treat HCV genotype 1 today?
[Editor's note: You can vote on this poll and view results by visiting the original blog post.]
Paul Sax is Clinical Director of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women's Hospital. His blog HIV and ID Observations is part of Journal Watch, where he is Editor-in-Chief of Journal Watch AIDS Clinical Care.