Are Hep C Drugs Worth the Cost?

Hepatitis C medications may be cost-effective in long term

(RxWiki News) Newly developed drugs to treat hepatitis C infection can cost upward of $100,000 for a full course of treatment. Do the benefits of these drugs outweigh the costs?

A new study from the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) found that treating hepatitis C patients with expensive new drugs may actually be cost-effective in the long term. According to the authors of this study, the medical costs tied to delaying treatment coupled with the potential improvements in patients' quality of life were enough to justify using these pricey drugs — even for patients only in the early stages of liver damage.

"The budgetary implications of widespread treatment are quite large at current drug prices," said lead study author James G. Kahn, MD, MPH, a professor of epidemiology at UCSF, in a press release. "However, these costs are time-limited, and they are lower than some other treatments that are less effective. In the US, we spend more than $140 billion a year treating cancer, often with less health benefit than is provided by the new hepatitis C treatments."

Hepatitis C is a viral liver infection primarily spread through blood-to-blood contact. Today, most people become infected by sharing needles or other equipment used to inject drugs.

For the majority of patients, hepatitis C infection becomes chronic. Without treatment, chronic infection can lead to fibrosis (liver scarring) which can ultimately progress to liver failure or liver cancer. Fibrosis is classified in five stages of increasing severity, from zero to four.

For this study, Dr. Kahn and team compared the costs of treating patients with the new drug sofosbuvir-ledipasvir (brand name Harvoni) at all stages of fibrosis to the costs of postponing treatment until stages three or four.

These researchers found that, at current drug prices, treating half of the patients who are currently infected with hepatitis C, and are aware of their condition but have not yet been treated, would cost about $53 billion over five years. Treating those patients only at fibrosis stages three and four would cost $30 billion.

However, when it was factored in that early treatment would avoid the costs of treating the damage from long-term infection, Dr. Kahn and team found that the estimated lifetime health care savings from early treatment was $3.3 billion.

This study was published online Nov. 23 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

The Blue Shield of California Foundation, the California Health Care Foundation, the Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, the University of California at San Francisco and the National Institute on Drug Abuse funded this research.

No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
November 23, 2015