What We're Reading: New HCV Drug Fails to Generate Excitement

What we're reading, March 1, 2016: physicians greet Merck's new hepatitis C drug with caution; 20% of Puerto Ricans could be infected with the Zika virus in 2016; and nearly $3 billion wasted in cancer medicines.

Merck’s new hepatitis C virus drug, Zepatier, has not generated much excitement among physicians. According to Medscape Medical News, the reason why only 11% of physicians would prescribe the new drug to half of their eligible patients could be because they have a lack of familiarity with the drug and its costs. While Zepatier has a similarly high cure rate compared with Harvoni and Viekira Pak, Merck’s drug has a significant price advantage: $54,600 for 12 weeks compared with $94,500 for Harvoni and $83,000 for Viekira Pak.

In Puerto Rico the number of confirmed cases has reached 117 and an expected sharp increase in the number of cases in the coming weeks makes it more likely that the virus will spread to the continental United States. More troubling is how the growing outbreak has shown a light on the much public programs, such as basic health and environmental control services, have been affected by Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, reported The Washington Post. The CDC is estimating that a lack of a functioning healthcare system, window screens, and a spray that works against the mosquitos means an estimated 20% of the island’s population could be infected by the end of 2016.

Nearly $3 billion is wasted every year buying cancer medicines that are eventually thrown out. The problem, according to a report in The New York Times, is that these expensive drugs are being distributed in vials that hold too much for most patients. After the provider measures the amount needed for a patient, the rest of the medicine is thrown out for safety reasons, researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center found. However, this is an issue unique to the US: some of these medicines are being distributed in smaller vial sizes in Europe.

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