A new Hep C medication called Epclusa was approved by the FDA in June 2016 to treat adult patients with chronic Hep C. The medication can be prescribed to people both with and without cirrhosis. The medication can even be prescribed to people with decompensated cirrhosis, by adding the medication Ribavirin to the regimen.
There have been so many medical advances in the world of Hepatitis C in recent years that it can be hard to keep up. Over the last few years, we've seen the following developments:
Several additional highly effective medications have become available over the last few years, and now all people with Hep C have greater than a 90 percent chance of being cured.
However, even with these advances, there are many people in the U.S. -- and across the world -- who have not been able to get treatment.
The first pan-genotypic Hep C medication
The truly revolutionary aspect of the first pan-genotypic Hep C medication is that it can be prescribed to patients with any of the major genotypes of the disease.
There are six genotypes of Hep C, and many subtypes of each genotype. The many varieties of the Hep C virus complicated treatment, and have made development of a vaccine virtually impossible.
In the past, people responded to medications differently because of the genotype they happened to be infected with. Also, up until now it has always been necessary for doctors to run a genotype test before starting treatment; one of many tests in a long pre-treatment medical workup process. Removing the need for a genotype test could mean more people will get through the medical evaluation and into treatment earlier.
The Hep C genotype test is also expensive. It is typically covered by health insurance, but some people have to pay high copays, and the cost can be prohibitive for those who are uninsured and have to pay out of pocket. Patient Assistance Programs pay for the Hep C medications, but do not typically pay for the labs and evaluations required for treatment.
Not available in some parts of the world
Many patients in the U.S. are fortunate enough to have access to health insurance, and depending upon where they live, access to a "safety net" health care system (such as community health centers and public hospitals) that can provide quality care regardless of one's ability to pay. In many parts of the world, however (Africa, Middle East, Eastern Europe, South Asia), this is not the case. Eliminating the need for genotype testing will enable many more people around the globe to be treated for, and potentially cured of, Hep C.
Still, many people with Hep C remain unaware of their own status, or are completely out of care for Hep C. Sharing this type of remarkable treatment news provides hope, and can inspire people to find a way to get into care.
So -- get into care today. You may be the next person living free of Hep C!
Nirah is a clinical social worker and public health professional who has been raising awareness about hepatitis C and liver health in NYC since 2007. She organizes the Hep Free NYC network in NYC. @HepFreeNYC