Using a computer model of hepatitis C, Stanford researchers have determined that two new virus-targeting drugs called protease inhibitors are a cost-effective way to treat patients with advanced disease. As my colleague explains in a press release:
The drugs, which came out in the summer of 2011, were designed to be taken in conjunction with the standard treatment, which itself is a combination of two drugs, an interferon and an antiviral called ribavirin. While the new triple therapies increase the chances of kicking the virus, they have more severe side effects — such as full body rash and rectal bleeding — and boost costs. Boceprevir adds $1,100 per week to the cost of treatment, and telaprevir adds $4,100 per week.
[The researchers] wanted to know when or if doctors should prescribe the new treatments. Should doctors prescribe them to all hepatitis C patients? Or, should only patients with advanced disease be treated with the new drugs? With such high costs, the answers could have sweeping impacts on health-care budgets, particularly for public health systems such as the Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals where many hepatitis C patients receive care.
As described further down the release, intense statistical and simulation analysis led to the researcher's conclusion:
Despite the large price tag and side effects, the new treatments help [patients with advanced disease] avoid costly cancers and liver transplants — as well as allowing them to live longer, higher-quality lives.
The closer the threat of severe disease, the more justified treatment costs and risks become, said [lead researcher Jeremy Goldhaber-Fiebert, PhD]. “That would be the bottom line.”