Hepatitis C: Six-Week Antiviral Therapy 'Quick Cure' And Price Agreement Bring Hope

Anya Wassenberg

Innovative use of antiviral therapy for Hepatitis C and drug policy initiatives made news this week in the ongoing fight against what has been called a silent killer. Quicker treatment times and lower costs means that the next generation of antiviral treatments for Hepatitis C will reach – and cure – more and more of the millions of people worldwide who suffer from the debilitating liver disease.

A study funded by the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) found that Hepatitis C could be effectively cured in just six weeks using a combination antiviral drug therapy. The study was conducted on patients with acute HCV – the virus that causes Hepatitis C. Antiviral therapy consisting of sofosbuvir and ledipasvir together resulted in a 95 percent cure rate against Hepatitis C. The test subjects were still cleared of Hepatitis C a full 12 weeks after antiviral therapy. The researchers at Hannover Medical School in Germany concluded that the combination antiviral therapy was not only effective in curing Hepatitis C, but the drastic shortening of the usual treatment period did not appear to have any effect on whether or not the treatment worked.

The length of treatment is a huge issue because of the high costs involved in antiviral therapy for Hepatitis C. Professor Frank Tacke, EASL Governing Board member, is quoted in Science Daily.

"These exciting findings open up short and cost-effective treatment options that could prevent the spread of HCV in high risk populations."

Even in developed countries, the cost of Hepatitis C antiviral therapy means that many in the United States simply can't afford the treatment. In Canada, with a socialized medical environment, the drug is carefully rationed out only to select patients, according to a CBC report.

While the price only currently applies to the specific agreement that was announced, a representative of Doctors Without Borders, a member of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, told the CBC there are hopes that the organization will be able to renegotiate the price of the antiviral drug combination for Hepatitis C -- currently at about $80,000 USD per course of therapy -- for other countries too, including wealthy nations like Canada and the United States.

Hepatitis C is often called a "silent killer." HCV, the virus that causes Hepatitis C, clears by itself in 10 to 50 percent of people who become infected, but it is rare to have an early diagnosis -- before HCV has become full blown Hepatitis C. By the time symptoms appear, liver damage has already occurred.

About 130 to 150 million people across the globe currently have Hepatitis C, and it causes about half a million deaths every year. According to the Pakistani Tribune, about 5 percent of the population in Pakistan is currently affected by Hepatitis C, or about 10 million people. Hepatitis C and its complications account for about 30 percent of all Pakistani hospital admissions. There are 6 million cases of Hepatitis C in Egypt. According to a piece in the Baltimore Sun, there are over 3 million people in the United States with Hepatitis C. That figure may jump soon as more and more middle-aged Americans get tested for Hepatitis C in the wake of new medical guidelines.

The newest generation of antiviral therapies mean there is real hope that Hepatitis C can be eliminated entirely from wealthy regions of the world like North America. Shorter courses of treatment and cheaper drugs extend the hope for a cure to Hepatitis C sufferers worldwide.

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