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Shortening Treatment Time Maintains Efficacy, Saves Costs in Hepatitis C

Samantha DiGrande
A new study found that in 50% of patients, the standard 12-week treatment regimen for hepatitis C could be shortened to as few as 6 weeks without compromising efficacy.
A new study found that in 50% of patients, the standard 12-week treatment regimen for hepatitis C could be shortened to as few as 6 weeks without compromising efficacy. The preliminary findings were presented during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, held on November 12 in San Francisco, California.

Shortening the length of treatment for hepatitis C would be significant, because while hepatitis C drugs are able to cure more than 90% of patients with minimal side effects, the cost for these therapies is extremely high. On average, hepatitis C therapies cost more than $50,000 per patient, which limits access and is a substantial financial burden on Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers.

“There’s potential to save up to 20% of the costs of hepatitis C drugs,” said co-first author of the study Harel Dahari, PhD, co-director of the Program for Experimental and Theoretical Modeling (PETM) in the division of Loyola Medicine and Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, in a statement.

Hepatitis C, an infection caused by a virus spread through contaminated blood, can lead to liver damage, failure, and liver cancer. Nearly 70 million people globally, including 3 million in the United States alone, are chronically infected with hepatitis C. 

Researchers used a personalized medicine technique referred to as modeling-based response-guided therapy in order to reduce treatment times when possible. This method is new, since current treatment "is standardized to be given for a set period of time, usually 12 weeks, rather than being tailored to the individual patient,” explained Scott Cotler, MD, head of Loyola Medicine’s division of hepatology and a professor in the department of medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. 

After patients enrolled in the study had undergone treatment for a few weeks, researchers measured how much hepatitis C virus levels had decreased. In total, the study included 22 patients thus far. Mathematical modeling was able to predict that treatment could be shortened to 10 weeks in 1 patient, 8 weeks in 8 patients, and 6 weeks in 2 patients. The other 11 patients required treatment for the standard 12 weeks.

This proof-of-concept pilot study found that using response-guided therapy to reduce treatment times is possible. In order to validate these findings, a multicenter trial is currently underway in Israel. 

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