Is the Medication Sovaldi for Hepatitis C Worth the High Price?

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • A new medication, recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), offers a 90 percent cure rate for patients with some strains of hepatitis C. The cost for this medication sounds astronomical. A typical treatment would cost $84,000 per patient. But ,while this sounds like a large amount of money, it might actually be more cost effective than the alternatives.

     

    Current Treatment

     

    The traditional treatment for hepatitis C is a combination of interferon and ribavirin. Taken together, these medications strengthen the immune system and interfere with the virus’ ability to replicate itself. Treatment lasts anywhere from six to twelve months and comes with a number of side effects, such as flu-like symptoms, fever, nausea, weight loss, insomnia and anemia. These side effects are sometimes severe enough to interfere with your ability to function on a daily basis. Approximately 70 percent of people receiving this treatment are cured of hepatitis C.  

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    New Treatment Option: Sovaldi

     

    In December 2013, the FDA approved a new medication to treat two strains of hepatitis C – genotype 2 and genotype 3. The antiviral medication ribavirin is still used with Sovaldi. Side effects are less severe and the course of treatment is shortened to 12 weeks for genotype 2 and 24 weeks for genotype 3. As many as 90 percent of those taking Sovaldi for genotype 2 are cured of hepatitis C. For genotype 3, this drops to about 70 percent. This medication can also be used for genotype 1, however, it is recommended that interferon is included in the treatment. Therefore, the side effects are still a consideration.

    Besides Sovaldi, several other new drugs are waiting for final approval from the FDA. They are expected to be on the market later this year or early next year. These medications may increase the cure rates even more and have even shorter treatment durations.

     

    The Cost of Treatment

     

    Over the past several weeks, a number of concerns have been raised over the cost of Sovaldi. Each pill costs around $1,000.00 and over the course of a 12 week treatment this adds up to $84,000 per person. It is estimated that anywhere between 3 million and 5.5 million people in the United States have hepatitis C, although many don’t know they have the disease. If everyone was treated with Sovaldi, it would result in billions of dollars for the manufacturer. Insurance companies are balking at the cost. The company Expert Scripts, who manages many of the drug reimbursements for private insurance companies, is threatening to refuse to use this medication after other medications become available later this year. They claim that the cost of the medication is prohibitive and that insurance companies are not going to be able to handle paying for it. The company has asked doctors to hold off prescribing this medication until the other medications are available and the price comes down.

     

    According to Gilead Sciences, the manufacturer of Sovaldi, the cost of the medication is not only justified, it will save patients and insurance companies money over the life of the patients. A study completed by Mount Sinai, treatment to cure patients using the traditional treatment costs $189,000 per patient. This treatment includes medication and monitoring while taking interferon. This doesn’t take into account the additional costs of treating cirrhosis and liver cancer or performing a liver transplant, which can result when hepatitis is not treated. With the newer treatment, monitoring is not required and because of the higher cure rates, less of those with hepatitis C will go on to develop serious liver conditions.

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    Like all treatments, the pros and cons should be considered and discussed with your doctor. However, before discounting Sovaldi, or the medications coming on the market in the coming months, because of the price, consider the long-term benefits.

     

    References:

     

    “$1,000-a-day Miracle Drug Shocks U.S. Health Care System,” 2014, April 3, Kim Peterson, CBSNews.com

     

    “Express Scripts Assembling Anti-Sovaldi Coalition to Shut Out Gilead Hep C Drug,” 2014, April 8, Tracy Staton, Firecepharma.com

     

    “Sovaldi and the Cost-Innovation Paradox,” 2014, March 27, Nathan Sadeghi-Nejad, Forbes.com

     

Published On: April 08, 2014