Federal health officials have approved the first pill that combats all major forms of hepatitis C. This is one in a series of relatively recent approvals that’s changing how the liver-destroying virus is remedied.
The combination pill, Epclusa, was given the green light by the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday. Of the six hepatitis drugs approved by the FDA, the creation from Gilead Sciences could be the easiest to use for both patients with and without liver damage. Each of the six drugs work on different viral strains or stages of liver disease.
Gilead isn’t a new player in the hepatitis drug game. Their two previous hepatitis treatments have made billions, simply by innovating older, less effective treatments that would usually involve painful pill-and-injection cocktails. The drug makers are planning to price their new treatment aggressively too; Epclusa will cost $74,760 for a 12-week course of treatment, or roughly $890 per pill. Their first hep C drug, Sovaldi, cost about $1,000 per pill at the time.
Hepatitis C affects at least 2.7 million people in the U.S., and was the cause of over 19,000 deaths in 2014, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The slowly-developing virus is commonly not diagnosed until liver damage occurs, or other signs emerge, such as yellow skin, dark urine, and fatigue.
Gilead claims their new daily pill combats all six genetic subtypes of the virus, and cure 95% of patients in just three months, statistics from a clinical trial reviewed by the FDA. The drug can be taken with ribavirin, an older antiviral drug.
Side effects of Epclusa are just headaches and fatigue, says the FDA.
It’ll be a tall task to replicate the success of their previous drug, Harvoni, which was the top-selling prescription drug on the planet in 2015 with over $18 billion in sales. Sovaldi ranked eighth, raking in $6.6 billion for the drug company.
Shrewd investors have taken notice; Gilead Sciences Inc. shares rose $4.06, or 5.2 percent, to $82.31 on the day of the announcement.