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The Cure for Hepatitis C, Withheld

An Opinion Editorial on the Prohibitive Pricing of Newly Approved, Promising Drugs to Treat Hepatitis C

December 15, 2013

The era of using pegylated interferon (PEG-IFN) and ribavirin to treat hepatitis C virus (HCV) is OVER! Or it could be ...

Those two drugs take 48 weeks to work, cost a lot, are replete with horrific and sometimes permanent side effects and are at best only marginally effective.

But in the past two weeks, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two new drugs, simeprevir (brand name: Olysio, from Janssen) and sofosbuvir (brand name: Sovaldi, from Gilead). While the specific indications are not necessarily for these two drugs to be used together, the COSMOS study has shown that they can

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Reader Comments:

Comment by: vasu (vizag,india) Tue., Dec. 31, 2013 at 8:51 pm UTC
What about chronic hepatitis B?
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Comment by: vasu (vizag,india) Tue., Dec. 31, 2013 at 8:51 pm UTC
What about chronic hepatitis B?
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Comment by: Steven P (Jersey City, NJ) Thu., Dec. 26, 2013 at 5:26 pm UTC
While the pricing of Sovaldi and Olysio is unconscionable, there is some good news. Some Health Insurers, including my insurer, United Healthcare for Oxford, are approving both new drugs for those patients who are both Interferon intolerant and whose Hep C infection is now causing liver tissue damage. My doctor tells me that some other insurers are doing the same.

For those infected with Hep C and wonder what their next move should be, my history might be of help. I was diagnosed with Hep C way back in 1993. I have been treated three times for Hep C (all with only partial success and many horrible side-effects from Interferon) My last treatment was in 2004 and went on for 11 months because I so wanted to succeed but I hit a wall and stopped progressing. The three treatments were each far worse than the disease, which over 20 years caused little disruption in liver functions or damage to liver tissue. I was willing to wait for something better (and cheaper). There will be more new drugs in the 4th Q of 2014, some will be cheaper. So wait if you can.

I however can no longer wait. I want Hep C treatment before tissue damage becomes irreversible. Luckily insurers will pay for the new treatment where the patient is experiencing liver damage and who have have been unsuccessfully treated with Interferon and can no longer tolerate that drug.

So my insurance is paying the full cost of both new drug, $28,561.15/4 wks of Sovaldi and $22,563.55/4wks of Olysio (less my co-pay of $75 for Sovaldi and $25 for Olysio). My doctor originally prescribed Sovaldi alone (with Riboviron) for 48 weeks. However that was change when it was determined that taking both new drugs for 12 weeks would have a better success rate, have fewer side effects over time and would lower costs as Sovali for 48 weeks costs more that a combo of Sovaldi and Olysio for 12 weeks.

I started the treatment this morning.

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Comment by: George M Carter (Brooklyn, NY) Tue., Dec. 17, 2013 at 6:37 am UTC
A further note on costs and expenses:

Yes, Gilead spent $11 BILLION:

The pharmaceutical industry claims that it costs $1 billion to bring a drug to market, tho lately they’re screaming hysterically that it costs even more. See, for example,


But doesn’t that expense justify the price they charge? Absolutely not. It was a boneheaded business move. Even IF it cost ONLY $1 billion to bring a drug from the bench to the market, why does it make a single bit of sense to spend $11 billion??

It's only because they have every intention of raping everyone and their health care providers with an absurd price. Janssen is in the same ball park of unconscionable and fundamentally evil pricing.

There is no reason to charge that much. As noted, there are approximately 170 million people living with Hep C in the world. If sofosbuvir was $250/12 weeks and the same for simeprevir, that would be $37.5 billion income on each drug, presuming only 150 million were treated. (And there may be up to 200 million of us living with Hepatitis C worldwide.)

There's another approach called a cost-effectiveness analysis that could be undertaken. This can take further into account the HUGE amounts saved by people being cured for $500 instead of being lost due to chronic illness, cirrhosis and treating liver cancer.

So instead of a discussion about global public health programs to eradicate Hepatitis C, our lives, economies and health systems are held hostage by the sleaze of the pharmaceutical industry and their Wall Street masters.
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Comment by: Charles Glaser (New York, NY) Tue., Dec. 17, 2013 at 2:07 am UTC
Big Pharma has been economically raping this country for to long, it is time for "we the people" to make a stand.

Infection with the HCV virus, in most cases, takes a long time to progress. Being HCV and HIV positive I recognize that what I am proposing may seem outlandish but it is a way to strike back.

Sure we would all like to remove HCV from our bodies, but I think that we should not all rush to eradicate HCV, this would just be playing into Gilead's hand. Let those who need the treatment most because of severe liver damage get the treatment. The rest of us should hold off till it becomes necessary. This would prevent Gilead from reaping the immediate rewards it seeks. This requires a unity of purpose, we the people have to recognize that we can not continue to permit Big Businesses raping our country, otherwise this country will go the way of the Greeks and Romans before us.

I also propose that the government only pay for those with an absolute need, thereby refusing to bow to the extortion that Gilead is committing through it's pricing.

I love this country and am thankful for the care and support it has given me. It is not only Gilead
it is the whole system of health care sucking the life blood out of this country. Doctors ordering unnecessary tests, just to get more money from the government. We need to let them know that we will not stand for any more abuse of the system.

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Comment by: Christopher (Honolulu) Mon., Dec. 16, 2013 at 1:21 pm UTC
The FDA could have regulated the price by withholding approval of Sovaldi for Hep C unless Gilead agreed to sell the drug for a reasonable amount. They are entitled to make a profit but to shakedown America. But big pharma has already bought the US Congress so we are all screwed.
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Comment by: Anna (Prescott, AZ) Mon., Dec. 16, 2013 at 11:07 am UTC
If there is one golden rule to follow in journalism, it is to avoid the use of the word "rape" outside of the context of sexual assault.
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Carl (Orlando, FL) Fri., Jan. 10, 2014 at 8:49 pm UTC
I really don't think that a discussion about these murderous prices is a time to become offended by semantics.

Comment by: Craig Quirolo (Brooksville Fl) Mon., Dec. 16, 2013 at 7:31 am UTC
Years ago Pharmassett and BMS had worked together on an HCV cure that was 100% effective. Gilead purchased the drug from Pharmassett for 11 B. The trial was a success in phase ll trials before Gilead dropped the collaboration because they wanted to own 100% of the cure. Well now they do and it is way over the top expensive. They paid too much for Pharmassett's compound to create a reasonably priced cure. This is the ugly downside of capitalism...people die needlessly because of greed. The people in the White House cannot distinguish between AIDS and HCV and are useless to contact about this issue. 4 times as many people die from HCV as AIDS but AIDS gets all of the attention.... go figure? The facts on how many people are exposed to HCV after a hospital procedure is alarming and under wraps for now.
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