Hepatitis C affects 3.2 million Americans, resulting in more than 16,000 deaths annually. It’s the leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants, which require major surgery and hospitalization. Early therapies for the condition required weekly injections that caused side effects such as anemia, depression and flu-like symptoms, leading many to stop treatment.
However, recent breakthroughs have introduced medicines that cure hepatitis C with few side effects – the holy grail of drug development. You’d think these new medicines would be cause for celebration. Instead, we’ve been told the cost of these medicines is too high and they threaten to bankrupt our healthcare system.
To further clarify the issue, we partnered with the Boston Consulting Group to produce “Innovation in Hepatitis C Treatment: New Opportunities for Action.” The current debate centers on how to price and pay for these new treatments, and who should be treated. We believe the discussion should be framed by acknowledging the undeniable success in innovation that has brought us to this point, contrasted with the consequences if we, as a society, fail to act.
Using a model developed by the Center for Disease Analysis, we estimate that new hepatitis C drugs could save 30,000 lives over the next 15 years when compared to the recent standard of care. In addition, the new medicines could prevent 16,000 cases of liver cancer and resulting liver transplants – a procedure that costs more than $500,000. With just a 5 percent increase in the number of patients screened and treated with these new medicines, 27,000 additional deaths from hepatitis C could be prevented – that’s nearly 60,000 lives saved over the next 15 years.
Yes, the economics associated with this revolutionary treatment breakthrough are worthy of thoughtful public discussion. However, the critical debate over the pricing of new treatments threatens to cloud the bigger picture regarding the incredible opportunity we have before us. Indeed, the case of hepatitis C is a likely prelude, with advances offering hope for similar breakthrough treatments and cures for other conditions down the road.
We can take a short-sighted, narrow view and conclude we can’t afford to act – or we can work together to develop and implement thoughtful policies and mechanisms to improve the lives of millions affected by hepatitis C.
Let’s choose to act.
Gillenwater is president & CEO at CHI-California Healthcare Institute (CHI). CHI represents more than 275 leading biotechnology, medical device, diagnostics, pharmaceutical companies, and public and private academic biomedical research organizations. CHI’s mission is to advance biomedical research, investment and innovation through effective advocacy of policies to improve public health and ensure continued vitality of the life sciences sector.