A Look Back at HCV in 2014

By: Marcus Hopkins, Blogger

As this will be the final HEAL Blog for 2014, I wanted to take this opportunity to take a look back at what may be one of the most important years for Hepatitis C. Rather than navel gaze upon my own brilliance, I thought it would be more appropriate to instead focus on the many successes (and potential opportunities) that have arisen over the year, as well as to highlight some bright spots for the future.

At this time, last year, advocates and patients were anxiously awaiting the release of both Sovaldi (Gilead Sciences) and Olysio (Jannsen), having just recently received final approval by the FDA. While both of these products had shown remarkable SRV (“cure”) rates, what was more striking to both advocates and the media were the prices associated with the drugs.

As both drugs hit the market, much ado was made about the “$1,000-a-Day Pill” (Sovaldi), and it was difficult to focus upon the good that the treatment option offered with all of the bad press over the price. With the majority of HCV patients being over the age of 55, it was all too likely that either Medicaid or Medicare was going to be covering the vast majority of the costs associated with treatment.

This prediction came true, and both agencies, along with private insurers, helped Gilead Sciences propel Sovaldi into one of the most successful pharmaceutical launches in history…much to the chagrin of the payers. The price of Sovaldi, alone, was so astronomical (according to advocates, patients, and payers, alike) that, thanks to heavy media coverage related to its pricing structure, Congressional hearings were held on pharmaceutical pricing.

For the first time in decades, the cost of medication was forced into the forefront of healthcare discussions in a way that it had rarely been, before, largely because the price point for Sovaldi ($87,000 for twelve weeks of treatment) was a number that stood out to many as “too high.”

Even with the high price tag, Sovaldi’s cure rate spoke for itself, and doctors continued to prescribe the medication, and payers continued paying for it, though not without first stating that it was becoming too much to bear.

As part of its response, Gilead went above and beyond in offering their own Patient Assistance Program (PAP) to help defray or completely cover the cost of treatment for patients with income requirements that were both generous and reality-based.

Gilead also is preparing its new Sovaldi combination therapy, which is still slated to hit the market in 2015, though a definitive price point has not yet been established.

Looking ahead to 2015, it’s clear that, while there have been numerous advancements for people living with HCV, the primary barrier to treatment has shifted from the tolerability of treatment methods to the affordability. While there are options for patients with lower incomes, a recurring theme permeates the advocacy discussion: “I didn’t know about that.”

In the coming year, I look forward to helping shed greater light on these coverage options in order that every patient living with HCV has the option of available and affordable treatment for their illness.

That said, I would like to thank the Community Access National Network, along with the ADAP Advocacy Association, for their continued tireless efforts in helping bring attention to the burgeoning HCV crisis, and look forward to our continued partnership. Happy Holidays, and I will see everyone in the coming year.

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