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For patients with advanced hepatitis C, benefits of new drugs outweigh costs

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.”

The study appears in the current issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, which also features research showing that more people in the U.S. die from hepatitis C than HIV.

Previously: Drugs offer new hope for hepatitis C, Program examines hepatitis C, the “silent epidemic” and Hepatitis C virus’s Achilles heel

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