So Called Hepatitis C Science Panel on Bias

I read the transcript of a panel discussion regarding Hepatitis C and bias.  The facilitator was a Ph.D. who did not share her area of expertise. My bias is showing here.  Is she knowledgeable about Hepatitis C or bias,  or is she a facilitator for hire?  The panel was a registered nurse, a social worker and a patient, all with Hepatitis C.  Sounds promising.

But the summary of the discussion was this:

  • We need more money from the government to educate people with Hepatitis C about treatments.
  • We need more money from the government so we can support Hepatitis C patients in the same way HIV patients have been supported, with more teams (I am not clear as to what this statement means).
  • The patient’s affirmation was “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” and “I learned a lot from a support group made of fellow Hepatitis C patients”.

I am with the patient, the tools are within as opposed to without. If solutions tie to outside money or the government, no progress is  made  and we are stuck. But if a new patient begins his journey with only a support group and he feels like shit (which he will), the danger of isolation is there and almost guaranteed.  I suggest adding a couple of strong friends or family members who can take turns helping you ride this bull, to keep you on for the eight seconds  (treatment duration). Forgive my analogy, I am from Texas where that makes sense. Two wonderful people for me were my husband and  the nurse. But, each patient experience is unique.  Keep trying until you find who and what helps you the most.

The pharmaceutical companies are reaching out to the masses.  They are talking about testing new treatments.  The companies are portraying patients as members of society, people who the general population can relate to. Not just the parrot heads and junkies as portrayed in the past.

parrothead BTW, I overheard my first hepatologist refer to Hep C patients in the waiting room as parrot heads (followers of Jimmy Buffett). That was my introduction to the label. I shared my thoughts with him about that descriptor for patients.

The pharmaceutical company  groundswell will reduce the stigma of having Hepatitis C.  Sure the motive is profit. So who cares?  Not a cured person like me (cured makes me sound like a ham). I worked in the pharmaceutical world for a quarter of a century. Research departments, when not linked to marketing, do great work. That is all I need to know. Let the insurance companies fight out the money issues. Give the insurance companies something to focus on other than patients. Oops, my damn bias is showing. I am curious to see how the “Affordable Care Act” (Obama Care) approaches  Hepatitis C.

As the panel patient points out, it is my efforts that will provide my shield from stereotypes. At least until the drug company marketing departments get the job done.

check out http://www.hepatitiscnews.com where I, and other people with Hepatitis C, share information.

Hep C Treatment: Do We Or Don’t We? And Who the Hell Does Egypt Know That We Don’t?

I’m going to  ask you to hang with me on this one.  It is a lesson in pharmaceutical pricing and what your insurance will/can pay. Medicaid can’t! 

I worked in Big Pharma Research and Medical Affairs for a quarter century.  So? I see pricing strategies for Hepatitis C treatment compounds and they will affect you.  Let’s look at:

  1. Pricing Strategies for Big Pharma, and they DO have one for who, how much, and how long
  2. How some get to bypass this pricing strategy entirely
  3. Why patients will unnecessarily suffer with this curable Hep C

These days you can’t swing a cat without uncovering a new treatment on the horizon!  Good! Right?  Mostly.  Big Pharma competitors have a short time on top and intend to make  as much profit for stakeholders (stock holders)as possible.  It is the job.

Remember when Vertex launched Incivek (telaprevir) fourteen months ago?  First new drug in forever.  All new patients were given Incivek along with the standard cocktail of Interferon/Ribavirin.  Vertex was the new darling in hepatology, for a year. Sales went from $76.1 Million Q 1 2013 to $44.3 Million Q 4 2013. Now they have dropped out of Hep C research because there is a new rock star launch; Gilead Sciences with Sovaldi (sofusbuvir).

“Record sales of a new hepatitis C drug, Sovaldi, pushed the first-quarter earnings of Gilead Sciences far beyond expectations, the company reported on Tuesday, Sovaldi (sofusbuvir), the company’s $1,000-a-pill medicine to treat hepatitis C, had sales of $2.27 billion in the first quarter, the company said in a statement. That beat an average of analyst estimates by more than $1 billion. The Foster City, California-based company also reported profit excluding certain items of $1.48 a share, beating by 56 cents the analysts’ average estimate (GILD:US). (Yes that is Billion not Million.) The hepatitis C sales are “above even the high end of buy-side expectations,” Mark Schoenebaum, an analyst with ISI Group LLC in New York, said in a note to clients. He called it the best drug introduction in history. Gilead, the world’s biggest makers of HIV drugs, yesterday reported total first-quarter revenue of $5 billion.

Gilead is awaiting U.S. regulatory approval of a two-drug combination with Sovaldi that does away with shots that boost the immune system, yet produce side effects. Company executives said they are aware of the price criticism and the sustainability of spending on the drug. “There are natural limits on what I think is appropriate for next generation products,” Chief Operating Officer John Milligan said yesterday on a conference call.”

 

“If cost were not a factor, we would want to treat the entire population,” said Dr. Rena Fox, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. She said it was frustrating that “we finally get this great treatment and then we withhold it.” 

Ah,  my point exactly.

And then there is Egypt. Yes that Egypt.

On March 12 the Egyptians declared  that negotiations between the ministry and the American company were successful and Egypt will obtain the drug for only 1 percent of its price internationally, according to Al-Masry Al-Youm. Adawy, Minister.  The price of a one-month prescription in Egypt will cost $300 while in the U.S. it costs $28,000 a month. (Yes that is Hundred, not Thousand).  The full course will cost $13,000 instead of the $168,000 it costs in the U.S.. They agreed to support making hepatitis c a top priority and to intensify efforts to provide the required medicine at “affordable prices”. According to Reuters, Gilead said on March 22 that it was “pleased to have finalized an agreement” to provide the cure to Egypt, one of the countries with the highest rate of hepatitis C patients.

 

 

May 6, 2014:  Janssen Submits Supplemental New Drug Application to U.S. FDA for OLYSIO™ (Simeprevir) for Once-Daily Use in Combination with Sofosbuvir for 12 Weeks for the Treatment of Adult Patients with Genotype 1 Chronic Hepatitis C. AbbVie, Merck, Bristol-Meyers-Squibb and Johnson & Johnson have potential treatments on the horizon. This is why Gilead is gouging now.  Big Pharma calls it recouping research money. Some is profit too.   It’s all perspective.  Which a Hep C patient is sorely missing.

I shit you not. Thanks for hanging with me on Big Pharma Pricing.  Now you can teach MBA students.  I am feeling powerless though.  Maybe you know someone in Egypt.

One last thought:  I am clear of Hep C Virus after two years and I wish this for you.

Go see my friends at http://www.hepatitiscnews.com  They have great helpful news all the time!

hcvnewdrugs@gmail.com

 

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-04-22/gilead-beats-hepatitis-c-sales-estimates-by-1-billion

 

http://www.fiercepharma.com/story/vertex-profits-one-time-gain-despite-plummeting-incivek-sales/2014-01-29

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HEPATITIS C: THE HAPPY-EVER-AFTER ENDING

Happy Ever After, Mostly

Happy Ever After, Mostly

I witnessed a marker for Hepatitis C yesterday that three years ago was impossible. On CBS, Gilead was advertising treatment/cure for Hepatitis C. Consider that three years ago admission of having Hep C was admission of a dark past, even when none existed. Consider that only 20% Hep C positive people even knew their status. Consider that three years ago treatment success was 40-50% even with forty-eight weeks, multiple drugs that were disabling and exacerbated long-term crippling depression. The latest treatment recommendations for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection are now available on www.HCVguidelines.org, the result of a collaboration between the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD), the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), and the International Antiviral Society-USA. These are the few that know what is happening. http://hcvguidelines.org/sites/default/files/AASLD-IDSA_PressRelease.pdf   

Drug development for HCV is progressing rapidly, with new direct-acting antiviral medications capable of essentially curing HCV. Eugene Schiff, MD, director, Schiff Center for Liver Disease at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida, commented on the development of the Web site in an interview with Medscape Medical News. “The reason [for the development of the Web site] is that the field is moving so rapidly…the [US Food and Drug Administration] is trying to advance some of these [medications] faster than they have traditionally in the past, which is wonderful for the patients,” Dr. Schiff said. “Because of all this, the average clinician can’t keep up with it, and they’re trying to be more in sync with the advances,” he added. “In just the past 3 months, 2 new medications became available for treating HCV that hold a great deal of promise for patients living with this disease, and more are expected. HCVguidelines.org provides physicians with the latest information and informed guidance on the available treatment options based on a rigorous review of data,” Barbara Murray, MD, president of IDSA, explained in the statement. “[The development of newer drugs is] of historical significance. We are quickly approaching 100% cure rates of this disease with treatment,” Dr. Schiff explained. “The presence of a readily available, frequently updated guidance document is a great service to providers and their patients, who will benefit from modern treatments that result in cure of HCV up to 95% of the time,” Michael Saag, MD, a member of the board of directors of the International Antiviral Society-USA and a cochair of the guidance panel, said in the statement. “The site will be updated regularly to keep pace with improved diagnostic tools and new drug options as they meet [US Food and Drug Administration] approval,” according to the statement. The Web site will include an ongoing summary of recent changes. Guidance for Insurance Carriers.   Also The rapid development of medications has made insurance companies as well as clinicians unsure of the best treatment options

The newer drugs are expensive, and not all insurance carriers are willing to pay for them. The guidelines may help insurance carriers evaluate the appropriateness of these drugs for patients with HCV. As the drugs become more available to patients, the cost may go down, Dr. Schiff said.

Even though the newer drugs are expensive, they may still be cost-effective if they are curing patients, he added.

Guidance for Insurance Carriers Also

The rapid development of medications has made insurance companies as well as clinicians unsure of the best treatment options, the statement explains.

The newer drugs are expensive, and not all insurance carriers are willing to pay for them. The guidelines may help insurance carriers evaluate the appropriateness of these drugs for patients with HCV. As the drugs become more available to patients, the cost may go down, Dr. Schiff said.

Even though the newer drugs are expensive, they may still be cost-effective if they are curing patients, he added.

 

 

Hepatitis C: More Affordable Treatment Possible

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/819086

This attached link presents interesting models for lowering treatment drug costs.  Not necessarily doable, but interesting.  Remember I worked for drug companies for decades.

Thank You Gilead for GS 5885 /  Solvaldi.  Saved my liver!

Good Bye everyone, thanks for your support.

Special thanks to Jana Lee RN and Advanced Liver Therapies.  Time for you to tackle something else like Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease or decrease liver transplants rejections; and do something awesome again.

www.HCVguidelines.org  Give this to your physician

http://hcvguidelines.org/sites/default/files/AASLD-IDSA_PressRelease.pdf

http://www.gilead.com/medicines/product-approval-timeline.

 

 

The Depression Road Goes On Forever and The Party Never Ends *

Hepatitis C and Depression: I should be weary of this subject, but I’m only weary of depression. Thirteen months ago I completed a clinical trial for Hepatitis C. I was cured, c-u-r-e-d.

 GS-US-256-0124-A Phase 2B, Trial Evaluating Using Combinations of Oral Antivirals (GS-5885, GS-9451), PegInterferon Α and Ribavirin In Treatment Experienced Subjects  With Chronic Genotype 1 Hepatitis C Virus Infection

Last month I went in for my one-year follow-up visit where it was confirmed “No Virus After One Year!”.  Okay, maybe it’s true.  Maybe. I answered questions about my mental well-being.  I felt great and said so.  Later I remembered that I felt great because I was on two anti-depressant drugs, Lexapro (escitalopram)  and Wellbutrin (bupropion XL) with a splash of trazodone at bedtime.

BTW, I think everyone should speak about their antidepressants. I know there’s a bunch of us out there.  Just look at the sales $$$.     I worked for Lilly when they launched Prozac.  Rather than get it for free, I paid at the retail pharmacy because I didn’t want anyone to know.  That’s Bull Corn.  Bull Corn?  Where did that come from?

Where was I?  So two weeks ago, my psychiatrist,  (who treats Hep C patients) began to decrease the Lexapro with the goal of decreasing my antidepressant load.  My scaffolding crumbled under me and I spiraled into an anxiety-ridden, weeping insomniac in just a few days and nights.

I've come undone
I’ve come undone

.So,  I am miserable and looking at increasing drugs.  My first thought was that I am FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Reason/Recognition/Repair  military slang) and that’s that.  My second thought was to work closely with Dr _ who assures me that this is a minor setback. Minor to someone else maybe. How quickly I become self-absorbed.

Now, after 400 words, the reason for this blog.  Today I received this article from  Medscape.

 Psychiatric Treatment Considerations With Direct Acting Antivirals in Hepatitis C   Sanjeev Sockalingam, Alice Tseng, Pierre Giguere, David Wong
BMC Gastroenterol. 2013;13(86)

(Newly published articles in my areas of interest for August 9, 2013: Medscape)

Can’t resist the title can you?  I know I can’t.

Being a Doctor of Pharmacy and a scientist, I love articles like this. It takes my entire nineteen years of schooling to follow the data dump. Gastroenterologists and Psychiatrists won’t read this article. It falls into a discrete category that gets filtered out during literature searches. DAAs means previrs ( boceprevir / telaprevir).

Abstract

Background Despite recent advances in hepatitis C (HCV) treatment, specifically the addition of direct acting antivirals (DAAs), pegylated interferon-alpha remains the backbone of HCV therapy. Therefore, the impact of DAAs on the management of co-morbid psychiatric illness and neuropsychiatric sequelae remains an ongoing concern during HCV therapy. This paper provides a review of the neuropsychiatric adverse effects of DAAs and drug-drug interactions (DDIs) between DAAs and psychiatric medications.

Methods We conducted a PubMed search using relevant search terms and hand searched reference lists of related review articles. In addition, we searched abstracts for major hepatology conferences and contacted respective pharmaceutical companies for additional studies.

Results Limited data is available on the neuropsychiatric adverse effects of DAAs; however, data from major clinical trials suggest that DAAs have minimal neuropsychiatric risk. DAAs can potentially interact with a variety of psychotropic agents via cytochrome P450 and p-glycoprotein interactions. Triazolam, oral midazolam, St. John’s Wort, carbamazepine and pimozide, are contraindicated with DAAs. DDIs between DAAs and antidepressants, anxiolytics, hypnotics, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics and treatments for opioid dependence are summarized.

Conclusions Although DAAs do not add significant neuropsychiatric risk, the potential for DDIs is high. Consideration of DDIs is paramount to improving medication adherence and mitigating adverse effects during HCV therapy.

So the abstract  (I saved you from the entire article)  kinda says: We don’t know enough to draw any conclusions so we caution you when using any drugs metabolized by the liver, including antidepressants. Terms: pharmacokinetics (where the drug goes in your body and how your body changes it to water-soluble (pee), or fat-soluble (poop) to get rid of the drug:  pharmacodynamics , what the drug does to your body to heal you and how it does it. This is for one drug. Think about a bunch of drugs where the liver and maybe kidneys do not work well.  There is a traffic jam and a couple of fights at the entry to your liver and the drugs build up in your blood.   Crash.

This is a year of my life

CPY 450 System, took me years

And so I say to you what any good or bad pharmacist would say:  “Caveat Emptor”.  Actually,  the pharmacist will put warning stickers all over the bottle and give you a packet of small print information.  Then she will make you sign that you have been counseled.

Beware the Jabberwok

Caveat Emptor

* A nod to the awesome Robert Earl Keen Jr. http://www.metrolyrics.com/the-road-goes-on-forever-lyrics-robert-earl-keen.html

http://www.hcvadvocate.org/hepatitis/factsheets_pdf/HCV_Neg.pdf  This is awesome for those like me.

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/807927?src=wnl_edit_tpal&uac=190805DY

For You New Guys: Now What?

I wrote this article for www.hepatitiscnews.com.  Visit their site for more information.

You have hepatitis C (HCV) and have only heard scary things. Your best friend is knowledge, not just facts. It is no good to just bring your liver to treatment. You must bring your mind as well.

Quit drinking or taking drugs? If not, come back when you do.

What to learn:

Doctors: Your insurance will pay the same amount for a hepatologist or a gastroenterologist. Go for a hepatologist. All he thinks about is the liver.

Treatment Lingo: Learn it. This language is the only way you have to talk with your treatment team.

  • VR: Viral load – number of viruses per ml of blood is written      in logs
  • Log: simply a way to not write all the zeros in a number. 1,000,000 is 1 million viruses per ml of blood, is 6 logs
  • RVR: Rapid Virologic Response – hep C undetectable at week 4 of  treatment
  • NR: Null Response – no decrease in virus at week 12 of treatment
  • PR: Partial Response – small decline in virus at week 12 but still detectable at week 24
  • SVR: Sustained Virologic Response – undetectable virus 6 months after treatment completed. The goal!
  • Genotype: Most people in the US are Genotype I. Learn yours. Treatment choices are based on genotype

Depression: If you are like me and inclined toward depression, ask your doctor if you can start antidepressants before treatment. It’s easier to get ahead of depression than try to catch up to it. This can make the difference between completing treatment and not.

Available Treatments: Currently the standard of care (SOC) includes Interferon, which is harsh. Soon treatments will be available without Interferon. Can you wait? Talk to your doctor. All treatments include at least 2 drugs to attack the virus at two different sites in the life cycle (think of killing fleas on your pet).

flea life cycle

Another approach: I am a scientist as well as a treatment success. Here is what I did and why: I looked up clinical trials in my city at clinicaltrials.gov. I found a research site and participated in trials there.

The advantage: Newest treatments and a team focused on my health with close monitoring of my whole body, not just my liver. All treatment is free and you can opt out if you don’t feel comfortable.

The disadvantage: You must commit to follow the protocol. My first treatment drugs were SOC and didn’t work so I went through treatment again. But, this was successful and I am cured!

One note of warning: They are researchers and so they don’t know all the answers to treatment outcomes. Phase III means that many patients have experienced this drug and more is known about safety. Phase II means the drug has only been in a few humans, so less is known about safety. I suggest only participating in a Phase III trial if you aren’t comfortable with the unknown.

I wish you the best and suggest taking it one day at a time.

on the farm

on the farm

Hepatitis C Treatment: The Big Sleep In The Rabbit Hole

Going through treatment of Hepatitis C, I suspended reality. 

My world became a rabbit hole.  More like a depressed Bugs Bunny than Alice.

The first on-screen appearance of Bugs Bunny, ...
The first on-screen appearance of Bugs Bunny, from an unrestored version of the cartoon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Only my husband Spanky, the psychiatrist and the research nurse could check on me.  But frequently I pulled the hole in on myself and stayed there.  It was kinda weird.   I felt safe from others but not my crazy mind.  I couldn’t close the rabbit hole fast enough to keep out my mind.   Sometimes I felt like I was watching the world through a window but  I couldn’t remember what happened that day.

Memories of coming out of a bar when the sun is still bright, eewww.

Twice stolen from Edvard Munch

Twice stolen from Edvard Munch

malavula.blogspot.com

I used to wonder if other study patients felt the same as me.  I would watch in the waiting room.  But they weren’t giving up their secrets.  Each traveling with his own rabbit hole.

Rabbit Hole Urban Dictionary
Alice in…Metaphor for the conceptual path which is thought to lead to the true nature of reality. Infinitesimally deep and complex, venturing too far down is probably not that great of an idea.
An allusion to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. To go “down the rabbithole” is to enter a period of chaos or confusion.
Or to take acid, Deb
…….
Then the study ended.  As drugs began to leach out of my body, I felt like I took a year-long nap.  Only I wasn’t asleep.  I was waking from a little tiny world.  Like a newly released guest of the penal system or someone from the space station, I heard about stuff while in my pseudo-sleep but hadn’t really grasped it.  Politics, friends, life skills, I had to catch up on it all. This is more difficult than you think, trying to get past all the celebrity crap. Who “gets” celebrity crap?  I don’t but somebody must or it wouldn’t be ubiquitous.
Sometimes I want to crawl back down the rabbit hole.  During those times, I hang out in our guest room, my home during treatment.  It’s comforting in a psychiatric kind of way.  It took months to feel free of that need,  about four half-lives*  When I can’t sleep I still go in there.  It is normal to lie awake all night in the rabbit hole.
 I’m thinking of painting the rabbit hole room lavender (I don’t like lavender) or getting a new bed (I like the existing bed).  Dismantle the tangible rabbit hole.
*A half-life, t1/2, is the time it takes to remove 1/2 of a drug from your system.  To approach 100% drug removal takes about six half-lives.

A biological half-life or elimination half-life is the time it takes for a substance (drug, radioactive nuclide, or other) to lose one-half of its pharmacologic, physiologic, or radiological activity. In a medical context, the half-life may also describe the time that it takes for the concentration in blood plasma of a substance to reach one-half of its steady-state value (the “plasma half-life”)