How We’re Curing The Incurable

For the past 25 years, hepatitis C has remained largely incurable and often fatal for the world’s 170 million patients with the disease.

John CastellaniDecember 18, 2014

This post first appeared on the Morning Consult

In 1989, while the world watched the Berlin Wall fall and history opened a new chapter, researchers in government and private labs half a world away were documenting a different beginning: the identification of the hepatitis C virus.

For the past 25 years, hepatitis C has remained largely incurable and often fatal for the world’s 170 million patients with the disease.

Until now.

As illustrated in a new PhRMA report, “Twenty-Five Years of Progress Against Hepatitis C: Setbacks and Stepping Stones,” recent scientific advances have boosted potential cure rates for hepatitis C patients from just six percent to more than 90 percent. Importantly, these developments have emerged from many unsuccessful research attempts. Our report found that 77 investigational medicines failed in clinical trials between 1998 and 2014, laying critical groundwork for the 12 medicines that were ultimately approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over the same period.

This progress spells hope for millions of patients and their families. Hepatitis C is a devastating viral disease that affects approximately 3.2 million people in the United States alone, with about 17,000 people newly infected annually. Each year, more Americans die from hepatitis C than from HIV.

As more hepatitis C patients receive next generation treatments, the transformative impact of these medicines on society will also create a compounding effect. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants and the primary driver of increases in liver cancer. The costs of treating hepatitis C can be staggering, with the average health care costs for a patient battling liver cancer estimated at $112,000 per year. The average cost of a liver transplant?  $500,000 per patient.

Without the availability of new hepatitis C treatments, total annual medical costs for this population are projected to nearly triple over the next 20 years: from $30 billion to $85 billion.

While America’s biopharmaceutical companies are helping change the outlook for managing hepatitis C, substantial unmet medical needs for patients remain. That’s why the industry continues to research other new treatments, with 75 new medicines either in clinical trials or awaiting FDA review.

We’re turning the corner on hepatitis C. But our work isn’t done.

We must and we will keep innovating.

New therapies are projected to provide even greater cure rates, more options for patients with different hepatitis C strains, shorter duration of treatment, and – eventually – we can tear down the wall between hepatitis C and its absolute cure.

To learn more about progress in hepatitis C management and treatment, I invite you to read PhRMA’s full report here.

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