In December, federal regulators opened a new era in the treatment of a deadly liver virus that infects three to five times more people than HIV.
The agency approved a new class of drugs that can cure most hepatitis C infections in a short period of time and with few side effects.
But at $1,000 a pill — and $84,000 per cure — who will get access to the drug?
Hepatitis researchers call the drug sofosbuvir (brand name Sovaldi) a landmark in the treatment of hepatitis C. More than 90 percent of patients who get the new drug can expect to be cured of the deadly infection.
Curing hepatitis C has been difficult, involving regimens that don’t work as well as the new option and bring harsh side effects.
More than 3 million Americans are infected with hepatitis C, and perhaps 170 million people have the disease worldwide. By comparison, about 1.1 million Americans have HIV, which has infected about 34 million people globally.
The drug company Gilead Sciences Inc. of Foster City, Calif., manufactures sofosbuvir. And some activists are beginning to complain about the company’s decision to charge so much for the drug. “For Gilead, we have outrage, pure and simple,” Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation told Business Wire.
But Gregg Alton, a vice president at Gilead, says the high price is fully justified. “We didn’t really say, ‘We want to charge $1,000 a pill,’ ” Alton says. “We’re just looking at what we think was a fair price for the value that we’re bringing into the health care system and to the patients.”
Illustration: Sofosbuvir (brand names Sovaldi) is a nucleotide analogue that stops hepatitis C replication by binding to the virus’ RNA polymerase (an RNA). The drug was discovered at the pharmaceutical company Pharmasset, which Gilead purchased to develop sofosbuvir. (Illustration by A New Merck: Reviewed blog under a Creative Common license)