About 15,100 people die each year from hepatitis C, making it the leading cause of chronic liver disease and liver transplantation.
The disease can be contracted through injection drug use, unprotected sex or through contact with the blood of someone who is infected. It can be minor, lasting only a few weeks, or a lifelong battle.
But a study from the University of Pittsburgh shows that hepatitis C could become a “rare” disease by 2036.
“We developed a predictive model that is highly detailed of the people who are infected with hepatitis C in the United States, and we also included recent screening guidelines approved by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and also the recent hepatitis C therapies that were approved by the FDA earlier this year,” Mina Kabiri, lead author, said.
A disease that is considered rare affects at most one in every 1,500 people – one in every 100 people in the United States currently suffers from chronic hepatitis C.
“It takes about 20 years to develop to the later stages, but with the new therapies with response rates of about 95 percent in most of the patients, we can claim that it’s curable right now,” Kabiri said.
Two of these therapies – oral drugs Sovaldi and Olysio – were approved by the FDA in 2013 and introduced to the market earlier this year.
With its promise to cure more than 80 percent of cases with few side effects, Sovaldi has become the most popular prescription for the disease.
The CDC currently recommends a one-time screening for anyone born between 1945 and 1965.
But Kabiri said if all adults received a screening, the disease could become “rare” even sooner than the model predicted.
“They (would) identify about one million patients, and that translates to if you treat them – but considering treatment capacity – if you treat those people over time, then hepatitis C could become a rare disease by 2026 - ten years earlier,” Kabiri said.
She said it’s all about being able to identify and treat new cases earlier.
However, Sovaldi costs as much as $1,000 per day and about $100,000 for one person to complete the treatment.
Comparatively, a liver transplant costs a total of about $577,100, according to Transplant Living.
“The next steps of this research would be adding cost in the model and then probably peoples’ insurance status and increasing treatment capacity,” Kabiri said. “All of this depends on policy makers, but I think doing research and some other research projects down this line would really help the decision-making process.”