An international medical non-profit organization has teamed up with an Egyptian drug manufacturer to develop a hepatitis C combination treatment that boasts cure rates comparable to the leading market pharmaceuticals – at less than 1 percent of the price.
Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) released a statement on results from a clinical trial assessing the efficacy of ravidasvir – a new antiviral – taken with sofosbuvir, an existing medication. Set to be presented today at the International Liver Conference in Paris prior to publication in a journal, the dataset showed that a 12-week course of daily ravidasvir/sofosbuvir treatment completely eradicated traces of the virus from 97 percent of the study’s 301 patients, including those with the most severe forms of infection.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 71 million people are currently infected with hepatitis C (HCV), 75 percent of whom live in low- to middle-income countries. In 2016, 400,000 patients died and only 1.76 million people received treatment despite the availability of curative drugs.
HCV is a blood-to-blood transmitted viral infection that can persist indefinitely in the human body, leading to a chronic disease typified by fatigue and potentially fatal damage to liver cells that, in turn, can cause liver cancer.
Until 2013, the only treatment options were months-long regimens of daily pills combined with weekly injections of interferon that often induced intolerable side-effects and failed to help patients with more severe strains of the virus and/or advanced disease.
Then, beginning in early 2014, newly approved oral antivirals called DAAs, capable of effectively killing the virus with few side-effects, became widely available. The problem? Drug manufacturers initially charged around $80,000 dollars for a course of the new combination regimens, even though they aren’t costly to produce.
In response to campaigning by public health agencies declaring the disease a global epidemic, plus competition from cheaper generic drugs, pharmaceutical companies began lowering their prices. Now, several nations with a high prevalence of hepatitis have special pricing agreements with manufacturers so they can distribute the current DAAs to those in need.
However, these regimens still cost tens of thousands of dollars per person – prohibiting state-funded DAA therapy programs in poorer nations.
Hoping to expedite the WHO goal of putting 80 percent of HCV patients on treatment by 2030, DNDi joined forces with drugmaker Pharco Pharmaceuticals to create ravidasvir. The combination treatment was subsequently evaluated in Malaysian and Thai patients.
“The results indicate that the sofosbuvir/ravidasvir combination is comparable to the very best HCV therapies available today,” said DNDi Executive Director Dr Bernard Pécoul in a statement, “but it is priced affordably and could allow an alternative option in countries excluded from pharmaceutical company access programmes.”
Per the organization's press release, a full 12-week course of sofosbuvir/ravidasvir will cost just $300 in Malaysia once it gets the official rubber stamp of approval.