The End is Near (for Hepatitis C)

St. Scholastica's Student Newspaper
The Cable
By: Erik Bergholm - Student Journalist -
Hepatitis C has a cure now! Photo credit to gizmocrazed.com

Hepatitis C has a cure now! Photo credit to gizmocrazed.com

A new pill is set to quash the epidemic of Hepatitis C, a disease that kills more people in the US than HIV.

The pill has already been proven effective in clinical trials. Dr. Arthur Rubens, a professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, who had an advanced case of the disease, volunteered his body in the hopes that this pill would at last be the cure he desperately needed. Much to his surprise-and delight-the virus was completely out of his system in a matter of just three months.

Hepatitis C is the problem child in the Hepatitis family, the worst of the bunch. It is a virus that attacks the liver, spread by contact with infected blood. It is the disease your mom warned you about when you expressed your desire to get a tattoo. The virus can go unnoticed for decades, steadily eating away at the liver, resulting in cirrhosis (scarring), liver failure, and even liver cancer. Symptoms, when they do appear, include fatigue, fever, yellowing of the skin (jaundice) and nausea.

There are up to four million new cases of Hepatitis C every year. 150 million of the victims are chronically ill-the virus stays with them for life. It truly is the new AIDS in terms of destruction. 350,000 people will die this year due to resulting liver complications.

In recent months, medical companies have been racing to gain approval for new Hepatitis treatments from the FDA. Gilead Sciences appears to be in the lead, with their pill named sofosbuvir recommended for approval by committee, awaiting the final decision in December.

Sofosbuvir and its peers will be a welcome relief to Hepatitis sufferers. Until now, the most effective treatment has involved weekly injections of a man-made protein known as interferon alfa, alongside daily doses of ribavirin. Though many patients were eventually cured by these drugs, they produced harsh side effects, like depression, anemia, hair loss, and flu-like symptoms. In comparison, the new pill produces little, if any, side effects. It acts as an inhibitor, blocking the enzyme needed for the virus to replicate itself.

Medical experts are hopeful of the prospects of this new cure. Available to the public as once-a-day tablets, it would more than halve treatment time, reducing it to a palatable eight weeks.

But there is always a caveat. Prices for treatment sessions could range from $60,000-$100,000, no small price to pay, especially for the uninsured. If these new pills are to be of any help to the millions of infected people, access to treatment must be made more affordable and more widespread. Perhaps the price will go down as demand increases.

Until then, victims of Hepatitis C can only hold their breaths in anticipation.

By Erik Bergholm
ebergholm@css.edu