Debate continues surrounding cost versus cure in hepatitis C treatment.
A new poll released by SERMO revealed that nearly two-thirds of physicians believe new hepatitis C (HCV) drugs are worth the price.
Although the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a reduction in these high-priced medications, 64% of polled physicians indicated that the cost of these drugs are justifiable.
“[Multiple sclerosis] meds cost $50-60K per YEAR and are not curative,” said a US neurologist in the report. “Lifetime cost can easily reach a million plus dollars. Consider the lifetime cost of treatment for a hepatitis patient, with complications and hospitalizations. You could easily argue the medication is cost-effective, based on that comparison.”
New medications, such as HCV drugs Harvoni and Sovaldi, have cure rates of approximately 95%, but according to a WHO report, they can cost upwards of $64,000 in the United States. A recently approved medication called Epclusa is the first drug to treat all forms of HCV, and the US list price is $74,760 for a 12-week treatment, which is lower than Gilead’s other breakthrough HCV drugs.
“Everyone wants cheap cures. Newsflash: they don’t exist in 99.999% of all cases,” said one US neurologist in the report. “This is one where I just have a hard time criticizing the drug company. In comparison to many other drugs already on the market, such as cancer drugs and MS drugs, and the value it brings as a cure for a disease, I don’t think it’s terribly priced.”
The cost of these drugs have stirred widespread criticism that only adds to the ongoing debate over drug pricing. In particular, heavy scrutiny surrounds several new drugs because they are offered at significantly lower prices in certain areas, with some countries seeing as much as a 99% discount.
“If you tell the drug companies TODAY, that their discovery can’t be sold for more than $900, they will stop working on a cure tomorrow,” said one US radiologist.
For the poll, there were 2032 physicians from the United States, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Great Britain, Greece, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, Poland, France, Hungary, Finland, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Spain, and Venezuela who participated.
Although a majority of physicians believe that the cost of these medications are worth it, they are still aware of the financial hit many patients are faced with.
“I think they are worth it but do wish they were cheaper,” said a US family practitioner. “I am treating a 63-year-old patient with hep C genotype 2b now and he had to get his meds paid for by a foundation … This can help him live a longer, healthier life.”
A US psychiatrist agreed, citing his enthusiasm over the high cure rates of these drugs, writing “I am liver transplant psych and see the wonderful results of these new drugs every day. Luckily, the days of interferon are mostly behind us.”
Still, some physicians are concerned about the impact pharmaceutical pricing is having on the practice of medicine, and note that accessibility is still a huge issue.
“I agree with the WHO guidelines: pharmaceutical companies must reduce the cost of drugs to ensure that all patients can be treated and not just those who are very ill,” said an Italian plastic and reconstructive surgeon.
A Canadian general practitioner agreed, writing “Pharma is greedy. They should reduce the price because this will increase the number of patients who can afford the drug.”
Some physicians approached the question by looking at the cost of health care more broadly when considering the costs.
“Drug and outrageous hospital charges are destroying our profession and forcing insurance costs skyward,” said a US based rheumatologist. “Meanwhile, docs get paid less and private practice is going away … Think about this: $90,000 for a hep C cure? What should a cardiologist get, based on value, if he saves a heart attack victim’s life? It is okay for pharma to get value, but not us?”