Drug innovation is currently on the edge of finding the cure for many chronic diseases, which for many crippling diseases, just five years ago was still difficult to imagine. Such is the case for hepatitis C, a viral disease transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person and through the use of contaminated needles or medical sharps. Infected persons present hardly any symptom at the early stage of disease, but if left untreated, quality of life decreases significantly, and chronic inflammation of the liver results in life threatening cirrhosis – scar tissue that damages the organ permanently. The liver cleans the body of toxins and metabolises thousands of substances; therefore people living with hepatitis C should not consume any medicine without special advice from their doctor, and this extends to vitamins and supplements.
The goal of treatment is to make the virus undetectable, which can be achieved with a combination of several drugs such as sofosbuvir, simeprevir, daclatasvir, ribavirin, and peginterferon. The right mix is prescribed according to several factors such as stage of the disease, liver damage, tolerance to treatment, among others, and if it is effective the virus becomes undetectable within four to 12 weeks. When patients maintain such response for 12 to 24 weeks after completing the therapy it is said they have achieved sustained viral response (SVR), and they are considered to be “cured”. Nevertheless, interferon and ribavirin treatment can have many side effects including fatigue, flulike symptoms, anemia, mild anxiety, depression, and gastrointestinal discomfort.
Fortunately, sofosbuvir presents very encouraging results among patients – 98% of them are cured without side effects, and it is the only drug that has managed to do so without being mixed with interferon. It is commercialized by Gilead Science under the name of Sovaldi®, and has become very polemical due to its high price, which is above US$70,000 for a 12-week therapy. In Mexico, IMSS estimates there are 1.5 million people living with hepatitis C, and 80% of them simply do not know it. The high cost of the drug can be a significant barrier to its commercialization in emerging countries including Mexico. In this regard, the world is putting its eyes on Gilead Science, expecting prices to go down any time soon.