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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hepatitis C Research: What’s a Phase and How Can We Get through it Faster?

Hepatitis C:  Current Research Drugs

Picture your liver at the center of the Milky Way. Now, the swirling stars are treatments, some closer than others.  Drug studies are in orbit like this.  Work with me here.

Your Liver = Center of your universe.

Illustration of the Milky Way by Dianna Marquee

Illustration of the Milky Way by Dianna Marquee

Filed = Closest stars, drugs waiting on FDA approval.  The red tape wheels grind on.

Phase III = Next out, drugs being tested large-scale for safety and efficacy.  Will the virus die before you do?

Phase II = Further away from your liver, drugs shown not to kill  people when tested on a small group of sick patients. Cohort is the word.  This was me during round two of treatment.  Kind of risky here.

Phase I =  Compounds (drugs) that don’t kill healthy people crazy enough to volunteer (broke students and new parolees)

Preclinical =A blur of solar dust = test tube, computer chemical structuring, animal studies. Yep, animal testing.

When I was first diagnosed in 1991 with Hepatitis C, there was only one binary star, Interferon and Ribavirin.  Finally in 2011  came Telaprevir  and Boceprevir. That’s a long time between hits, 20 years.  Now the Hep C universe is almost getting crowded, but not yet.  The issue is safety and timelines.  The barbaric days of Interferon could be phased out (pun intended).

Phases of  Current Drug Research:  Thanks go to Dr Paul Kwo for this slide

Paul Y. Kwo, MD, is Associate Professor of Medicine and Medical Director of Liver Transplantation in the Gastroenterology/Hepatology Division of Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis

Paul Y. Kwo, MD, is Associate Professor of Medicine and Medical Director of Liver Transplantation in the Gastroenterology/Hepatology Division of Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis

So, this slide represents current studies, phases  and the mechanism of action (MOA).  Remember that we want at least two drugs with different MOAs in our bodies to avoid virus mutation and resistance.  The good news is that there are multiple drug candidates in each category.  For further information on any study, go to www.clinicaltrials.gov and enter the drug/compound name.  This site will also tell you if the study is enrolling patients and if there is a location close to you.  This website rocks.  Thank you federal government.

The US research system is business-based, where competition for the patent drives the process.  I’m not completely opposed to this system.  But it does have drawbacks.

Remember when AIDS researchers were competing to isolate the culprit?  France and the US,  it was crazy.  The two groups still argue about whom was first with what.

The HBO movie And The Band Played On documents government and cultural barriers to a disease connected with a cohort that isn’t mainstream, i.e. HIV and homosexual men.  I’m glad the barriers came down a bit faster with Hep C.  Initially the cohort was alcoholics and drug addicts.  But then the target audience became baby boomers.  This was 1. More acceptable and 2. A bigger pool of patients and potential profit.

Obviously the slide above is the star of this blog.    Drug companies race to be first with a new drug(s).  So why am I speaking of other things?  Because I think the days of working in a research vacuum are limited.  American drug companies say this is bad.  They claim without financial incentive, research will dry up.

But, wouldn’t it be great if companies worked together and combined research efforts?  I know, that is a big but.  I like big buts…There are novel initiatives include partnering between governmental organizations and industry. The world’s largest such initiative is the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), and examples of major national initiatives are Top Institute Pharma in the Netherlands and Biopeople in Denmark.  In the USA it could be the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  We used to joke that NIH meant “Not Investigated Here”  meaning that the USA insists on its own research.  Only science types would joke about such topics. No wonder we have a reputation.

Paul Y. Kwo, MD, is Associate Professor of Medicine

Paul Y. Kwo, MD, is Associate Professor of Medicine

Now picture these studies sharing data.  Think of all the time and patient suffering saved by quickly identifying drug-drug and drug-disease interactions.  Think about how the winners would rise to the top.  I don’t care about the political/social overtones.  I am just thinking about patients. This is already happening with cancer research.

I have worked on this blog for a week and still can’t get it right.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virus

http://www.chronicliverdisease.org/COEE/index.cfm?id=PKwo

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drug_development

http://voices.yahoo.com/a-summary-film-band-played-on-127287.html

Hepatitis C Treatment Management: What would Mamaw Do? WWMD?

Mamaw and Papaw’s Wedding Day 1916 Livingston KY

The world of Hepatitis C treatment  is more than taking drugs as scheduled and hoping for virus death.  The bigger part is keeping  your body, mind and soul with you.

  • Diarrhea?  Water and Lomotil I guess, that was never my problem
  • Nausea?  Water, saltines and Phenergan
  • Constipation?  Water and stool softener.  Even the name is too gross.  Kinda like mud-butt
  • Mouth Sores?  Water then swish and spit Mylanta.  Happy to spit
  • Food taste like pennies? Water and floss, floss, floss, brush, brush, brush.  Still doesn’t help
  • Flu symptoms for six months?  Water then alternate Tylenol and Advil for six months.  Exercise: yeah, right
  • Rash? Benadryl oral and topical.  Maybe hydrocortisone/vaseline
  • Insomnia?  Ambien if you are lucky.  Benadryl if you are unlucky, it adds to constipation and taste of pennies.  Don’t drink water before bed
  • Depression? Water and SSRIs/SNRIs/antipsychotics/and on-and-on in couplets
  • Too tired to work?   Adderall if  the shaking won’t vibrate your loose screws
  • Can’t go on?  Cry really hard, take Advil, drink water and go on.

My Mamaw had eleven children in Eastern Kentucky  starting in 1917.  There was no doctor, drug store or money.  She lost two baby boys, one to the Spanish Flu.  When she came out of delirium, baby Bentley was already buried.

If an artery spurted, she applied coal soot.  Got a burn?  First well water (cold) then let egg white dry on burn or apply a slice of onion.  Step on a nail?  Clean and soak with turpentine.   Pneumonia?  Inhale kerosene (dosing was tough) through a moist cloth and put a mustard plaster on your chest.  It will kill you or cure you.  I never witnessed this  one.  Croup?  Make a sheet tent over the steam kettle, put in Vick’s and then hold the child under the tent.  If that treatment doesn’t work, sugar with a drop of kerosene. Give a few drops of whiskey if you got it.

a dose of pee

Here’s what applied to us grandkids. Pinworms?  Check rectum at night with a flashlight then give all the kids a stinky medicine that I think had tobacco in it.   Earache?  Warm up pee in a teaspoon a little more than body temp  and pour it in your ear. Stick in a plug of quilting. I would hide in the cedar closet  as long as I could before telling Mamaw.  I made her use my pee.  Here is the thing: it worked. Pee is sterile upon leaving the urinary tract.  Of course I knew nothing of a “clean catch”.  Collection was easier when we got an indoor bathroom.  You figure it out.  When I checked the internet for possible mechanisms of action (MOA) of the pee, there was a claim that urine is an antifungal.  Of course on the internet you can probably find a claim that golf balls extract is good for an earache too.  I made that up.

Mamaw’s rocker and sock monkey

What would Mamaw do about Hepatitis C treatment management?  Probably just rock me and say “Doggone it.  It’ll get better.”    I have her rocker in my house.  It sure is smaller than I remember.  Anyway,  it doesn’t really work without her.

We are in the Hepatitis C Virus Killing Business and Business is Good.

This fellow’s photo is here to encourage you to stick around to read the stuff below.

My Mamaw took Bufferin for  her “sick headaches”.  In looking back I realize she had migraines.  One day after coming out of the darkened bedroom, fixing her bun, she said  “How do it know where to go?”.  This is a woman who gave birth to 11 kids at home.

Mamaw Ora Mae Morris. I loved that woman. She smelled like biscuits.

The main reason to endure treatment is to kill the virus and get on with life.  With the addition of Bocephevir (Victrelis)  and Telaprevir (Incivek) , chances of clearing the virus have improved.  But, even if this isn’t achieved, there are other benefits:

  •  slow down the disease,
  • reduce or reverse liver damage
  • , reduce risk of liver cirrhosis/cancer,
  •  reduce need for liver transplant.

So how do we know the Hep C drugs are killing the virus?  “How do it know where to go?”

 Your blood is checked at the milestones listed above.  If the drugs are working, the viral load will go down.

Resist the urge to glaze over the terms below. Insist that someone on the treatment team explain the lingo to you. If that person can’t explain it, they shouldn’t be there. This is the language of your doctor when talking of your Hep C treatment results.

VL = Baseline Viral Load:  Amount of virus in your blood before treatment

RVR = Rapid Viral Response: The faster the response the better the chance of getting to cure.  This is assessed at 4 weeks

EVR = Early Viral Response: How you respond after 12 weeks of treatment.

SVR = Sustained Viral Response: No detectable virus 6 months after completion of treatment.  This is my next hurdle.

Resources:
  • Jana Lee, RN, CCRN, Advanced Liver Therapies, Houston

Hepatitis C Lingo: What is a Log?

Okay, you are going into treatment.  You must understand the language of treatment progress. No one values your health more than you.

Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.   Mitchell Kapor

 Treatment response is a topic of great importance to me, you, and doctors.  They need  to see if the treatment is working enough to keep poisoning you.

Viral load is how to measure response. It’s done  by looking at the amount of virus in your blood. Viral load is checked before treatment,  at week 4, 12, and either 24 or 48, depending on duration of therapy, then 24 weeks (6 months) after therapy.   The response is measured in log reduction.    In fact log stands for logarithmic.  So what?  Each log corresponds to a factor of 10.  So what?  A 1-log reduction means virus decreases by 10 times; a 2-log = 100, a 3-log = 1,000, a    6-log reduction = 1,000,000 = 1 million.  Log is a way of not writing down all the zeros.  Just count the zeros gone and you get the number of viruses that died per ml of blood and went away.  Sort of.  There, in one paragraph we discussed a concept that took me some time to learn.  And you thought you would never use that math junk.

When I was in middle and high school, I had it in my head that my brain wasn’t “smart enough” for math and chemistry, even though I skipped kindergarten and the 2nd half of my senior year.   So I avoided the hard sciences.  Remember I was still GOD, grown up on duty, at my house. Then in my 20s, I went to college and I decided I didn’t want to fear math and chemistry any more. I took inorganic chemistry with algebra on the side to understand the language of thermodynamics.  This is an example of how my childhood perceptions always played down my abilities even though my family said I was smart (which I loved but didn’t believe) . I graduated from pharmacy school at 30,  then went back for a Dr. of Pharmacy in my 50s (while traveling around the country for work and, unaware that Hep C was dragging me down).

Why am I interjecting these little stories in the middle of scientific drama?  Because there is no scientific drama!

All measures must have units:  pounds of pressure per square inch (PSI), miles per gallon (MPG), ears of corn per stalk (one).  Notice the word per in each. The  Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is number of copies of the virus per ml of blood. The hepatitis C virus, like all viruses, cannot reproduce by itself. It must first infect a living cell, such as the hepatocyte, and take over the cell’s “machinery.” Using the genetic information in your cell, the hepatitis C virus is able to make copies of itself which can go on to make more copies.  The virus is measured in copies per ml of blood.  I know, weird.

Lindenbach B, Rice C (2005). “Unravelling hepatitis C virus replication from genome to function”. Nature 436

BTW, kids in Middle School know this stuff.  Amazing.    We will talk about RNA another time.  I know you can hardly wait.

Source:  Vertex website, Wikipedia

http://www.vrtx.com/assets/pdfs/VRTXHCVTreatmentResponse.pdf

www.wikipedia.com

and my brain: no link

Partial Responders with Hepatitis C

All Hepatitis C studies are not created equal. Duh

I used to see myself as smarter than the average bear.  Not so much now.

Being me, I was not passive when searching for a Hep C study.  But I was mistaken.   I assumed. Don’t make an assumption.  I knew better.   My mom taught me this.  Every time some of us kids got in trouble, she pulled me aside and said, “You know better”.  It was years before it dawned on me that other kids knew better too.  My mom was once a kid.  In fact she was still a kid when she had me.  In 1951 it was not cool to have a baby out-of-wedlock.  My biological father passed on marriage and she had to go back home to Harlan County, Ky.   This is where I was born.  Papaw told me to say I was from “Bloody Harlan” because of the bloody mine strikes.   So that is what I told my teacher.  Papaw and all Moms’ brothers were coal miners.  We didn’t make moonshine (the other career path)

I learned that the TV show Justified   is about Harlan County.  I don’t watch it myself.  Makes me jumpy.

fig 1.Me, Mom in the white car coat, dad that raised me, Mamaw, Papaw, and aunts. Harlan County, KY. My mom has the big nose like Papaw.  She waited to get a nose job after Papaw died

Coal tipple loads rail road cars 1

When I was a curly headed baby
My daddy sat me down upon his knee
He said, “Boy, you go to school and learn your letters
Don’t you be a dirty miner like me”

I used to think my daddy was a black man
With script enough to buy the company store
Now he goes downtown with empty pockets
And his face is white as a February snow

I was born and raised in the mouth of the Hazard Hollow
Coal cars rambled past my door
Now they’re standin’ in a rusty row all empty
And the L & N
Don’t stop here anymore

http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/The-L-amp-N-Don’t-Stop-Here-Anymore-lyrics-Johnny-Cash/6B378501111ECA5D48256DEA000A5308

I love this song but never heard it until I moved to Texas

Where was I?    Okay brain get back on track.  Let me recommend that you do not have your driver’s license photo taken while on treatment. Very scary.

I chose to participate in a Multi Centered, Randomized, Placebo Controlled, Double Blinded study, evaluating Standard of Care (SOC) Interferon and Ribavirin (which had been my only choice all these years) vs. SOC and telaprevir for round one.  In fact I sought out this study. There were three arms, two with study drug.  I had a 66.7% chance of receiving study drug.  As I learned later, I was not randomized to study drug (telaprevir).  I assumed SOC included addressing anemia and other life threatening events.  In this case, SOC did not include blood transfusions or red blood cell (RBC) stimulant injections such as Procrit.  Standards of care have not caught up to current practices. Step one was to reduce the Ribavirin dose.  .  My hemoglobin (HgB) was 8.9 and the guideline minimum for taking Ribavirin is 10.0. Normal HgB range for females is 11.5-15.8 mg/dL.   My Ribavirin dose was decreased. Hemoglobin got slightly better but I paid for it later by not clearing the virus. In order to treat the anemia I would have to walk away from the study.  Dang it!   I quickly lost the ability to walk down a hallway, climb stairs or lift baggage without major shortness of breath (SOB) and the ability to complete a thought, all necessary for my job (oops, career). More about that later.

After treatment completion, an individual is assessed for response to measure viral load. If there is virus remaining but a reduction of disease by 30% or more  – it is called a partial response.   Partial response (PR) implies further treatment  required.  www.about.com   I moved from treatment naïve to partial responder.  Here I had saved myself for newer treatments but still got the same treatment that was available years ago.  Plus no treatment for the anemia.  How did a smart girl like me get in a dumb box like this?  I hung in there and finished the (long) 48 week trial.  Not only did I not have red blood cells (RBCs) or white blood cells (WBCs), but then the virus that was left was a stronger warrior.   Not good.  Here is the part where my education went out the window.  I was so depressed that I couldn’t function.  Every little thing was monumental.  I should have quit the study when my blood chemistry went to hell.  But I couldn’t think clearly enough to look at the situation logically.  All my decisions were made by a scared little girl.  See fig 1

You know I wanted to blame insurance companies.  It is so easy to blame insurance companies.  I wanted to blame pharmaceutical companies and the FDA.  They are easy targets too.  In reality, I, more than most, understand the study requirements and commitments. Sort of. I have been a research pharmacist for a couple of decades.  The data must be unsullied from outside forces like blood transfusions that will make it impossible to evaluate the toxicity.  That is the point of the study, not patient care.  Don’t misunderstand me.  Patients are well cared for. A patient can get treated without a study but a study cannot evaluate a treatment without patients

FYI, HgB is the molecule in the blood that carries oxygen, (O2) from your lungs to your blood and carbon dioxide (CO2) to your lungs so you can exhale this gas.  Speaking of HgB, it is a bucket brigade that carries water to a fire.  Even if you have plenty of water, if you don’t have enough buckets, the barn burns down.  Wait, that wasn’t a great example.  It wasn’t completely accurate either.  Never mind.  It’s just that I spent all these years learning this stuff; I want to get my money’s worth.  Kurt Vonnegut said only hermaphrodites use a semi colon; .Sort of.  While metaphorically I don’t relate to that, he did say it.   I didn’t pay Kurt Vonnegut, God rest your soul Mr. Rosewater.  Anyway my WORD grammar check said uses it.  I think I paid for that.  Yes of course I did.

Telaprevir (Incivek) and boceprevir (Victrelis) are now available to add to Standard of Care (SOC).  In fact by now they may be a part of SOC.  Glad I contributed to the body of knowledge that is clinical research.  Really I am.  But I wouldn’t repeat round one for nothing, not no way, not no how. It was two years before I was well enough to go for round two of treatment.  My career never recovered.