Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2020: Discovery of Hepatitis C virus


That’s right. Some of the work for this Prize was done at my university, WUSTL. This is a prize we have been expecting for a while now. Due to their work, Hepatitis C has gone from a suffering death sentence, to being entirely curable, meaning total eradication of a previously untreatable disease.


What is remarkable about this, too, is that the Hepatitis C drugs are among the most expensive in the market, but it actually is totally justified when you consider how much healthcare cost it saves:

Antiviral drugs for hepatitis C are very effective, but they come at a steep cost. Just one Sovaldi pill costs $1,000. A full 12-week course of treatment with this drug costs $84,000.

The price of other hepatitis C drugs is also high:

  • Harvoni costs $94,500 for a 12-week treatment
  • Mavyret costs $39,600 for a 12-week treatment
  • Zepatier costs $54,600 for a 12-week treatment
  • Technivie costs $76,653 for a 12-week treatment

Hepatitis C drugs are expensive due to the large demand for them, and the high cost of bringing them to market. Developing a new drug, testing it in clinical trials, and marketing it can run pharmaceutical companies nearly $900 million.

Though there is some debate about this:

The recently approved drugs, sofosbuvir and ledipasvir, for chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) treatment are more efficacious and safer but are substantially more expensive than the old standard-of-care (oSOC). It remains unclear whether and in which patients their improved efficacy justifies their increased cost.

From a societal perspective, novel treatments for HCV are cost-effective compared with usual care for genotype 1 and probably genotype 3 but not for genotype 2.

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@mercer - I’ve always been intrigued by HCV as a member of the flaviviridae. How did they end up so different from from the other members of the family?

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I don’t really know, as I stopped doing virology (and stopped gaining a steady diet of knowledge of defective interfering particles in RNA viruses from the lab next door) in the mid-80s.

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