Hepatitis C kills more Americans than any other infectious disease. Carleen was one of those affected. She had five children and was pregnant with her sixth when she was diagnosed with the disease.
Sixteen thousand Americans die from hepatitis C each year. Unfortunately, it can be years before patients become symptomatic and begin treatment.
Before 2013, antivirals used to treat hepatitis C required, on average, 48 weeks of treatment and resulted in severe flu-like side effects. These older medications were costly and offered cure rates of just 50 percent for patients who were willing to endure the side effects. The severity of symptoms increased as the disease progressed, and costs for treatment ballooned exponentially for patients and the health care system. For Carleen, the existing treatment was a poor choice.
Knowing that groundbreaking research was taking place behind the scenes, Carleen’s physician advised her to wait for new medicines that were in development. It was the right call. By 2013, the introduction of two new therapies for the treatment of hepatitis C offered a major step forward for patients battling the virus. This new class of medications increased the cure rate of the disease while decreasing the duration of treatment.
But biopharmaceutical companies and their researchers didn’t stop there.
Eight weeks after the birth of her sixth baby, during a test on her liver, Carleen experienced hepatitis C complications that left her in the hospital for over a month. She was sent home in severe pain, on oxygen and fighting for her life. Carleen finally began her treatment. This marked the end of her journey with hepatitis C. For the same cost of less effective treatments, Carleen was cured in half the time of older medicines thanks to the biopharmaceutical industry’s investment in innovation.
“I jokingly say there has never been a better time to have Hepatitis C. I was prescribed the new antivirals soon after they came out,” Carleen said. “I cannot convey the relief we all felt as we knew that these new medicines were going to kill the virus that was killing me. I was elated that the time had finally come to be treated.”
It took years, immense financial investment by biopharmaceutical companies and countless hours to achieve, but by eliminating a disease that killed more people than HIV/AIDs each year, these treatments will save lives and reduce health care costs in the United States by $115 billion by 2025. With the length of treatment cut by 75 percent, fewer side effects and double the cure rate of previous medications, these innovative medicines have given patients like Carleen a chance to live their lives and help others. “Their lives, in short, will be transformed. The value to these patients, and to their loved ones and society – you can’t put a price tag on it,” said PhRMA President John Castellani.
As for Carleen? She’s dedicating herself to helping others with liver disease.
“My struggle gave me and my family a vision to serve others who are alone and sick. My family’s life-passion is to serve those with liver disease. We want to help people access life-saving medicines like the ones that saved my life.”
Learn about the local impact of Hepatitis C and Medicaid spending.