Today, patients and doctors live in a time in which hepatitis C can be readily diagnosed and treated, with an excellent chance of a cure. Of course, it wasn’t always this way.
As the famous American essayist James Baldwin notes: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” There was certainly a time not too long ago that hepatitis C could not be changed, simply because scientists did not know its face.
All that changed in 1989 when three scientists identified the hepatitis C virus and named the disease. Now we could face it. And last week, these three deserving scientists – Harvey Alter of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Michael Houghton of the University of Alberta, Edmonton, and Charles Rice of Rockefeller University – were recognized with this year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine.
The timeline of this Nobel Prize really resonates for BioPlus, since 1989 was also the year our specialty pharmacy started, and hepatitis C treatment was a big part of our purpose and mission.
Just a few years after the 1989 discovery of the virus, the FDA approved the first treatment for this disease. This treatment, based on interferon, was the only treatment available at the time, but unfortunately it did not provide high cure rates and came with unpleasant side effects for many patients. Interferon was the first biologic that BioPlus dispensed, and to this day we remain the largest specialty pharmacy for hepatitis C medications.
By 2013 health care practitioners had access to a series of direct-acting anti-viral medications that are highly effective and well-tolerated; they work against all genotypes of the virus. For the first time it is possible to imagine a world without hepatitis C.
The barriers that remain in hepatitis C treatment are less directly linked to the virus and its treatment, but instead related to sub-optimal screening rates, barriers to health care access, and the high cost of the medications. Nonetheless, BioPlus continues working hard to provide access to care for prescribers and their patients with hepatitis C. Join us in facing – and changing – the health future of those with hepatitis C.