The US Department of Health and Human Services has issued a request for proposals on buying around a million vials of treatment sotrovimab, a hepatitis C drug that has been touted as a pan-genotype treatment, for a boost in patient treatment in the wake of the recent government shutdown.
Officials will spend US$100m purchasing the drug, a biologic, which includes no external drugs and is expected to provide over $4,000 in preventative health care costs per year. It will be distributed to all 46 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and officials are hopeful that individual states will be able to get their hands on more than 80% of the supply.
The move to purchase a large supply of the drug comes as 28,000 US citizens become newly infected with hepatitis C every year and amid concerns that limited funding for hepatitis C treatment programmes will result in less treatment options.
Patients are most likely to receive the drug through state health programmes, which are funded with patient fees or through national Medicare programmes.
The shutdown began on 22 December after Barack Obama ordered a stop-gap measure to allow government operations to continue after spending caps to deal with a deficit were automatically triggered by a Trump tax overhaul earlier in December.
However, now officials are attempting to purchase the drug ahead of the need for extra flu shots as healthcare officials are hoping that temporary shortages of flu vaccines this season will drive up the demand for new antiviral treatments such as vrivapek (sotrovimab) and ozanimod (mabatox) or a combination of medications that target the hepatitis C virus.
More than 70,000 people die each year from hepatitis C and the disease is largely preventable with improved drug-therapy and screening to help identify people at risk, starting with frequent blood tests.
Key findings from a 2018 report by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest found that by 2025, a combination of antiviral medications and hepatitis C prevention could save the healthcare system $94bn annually and save lives.
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In the same report, Dr Azad D. Pabani, Director of the National Committee on Quality Assurance’s Hepatitis Program said: “Because hepatitis C remains an infectious disease of many people, we cannot afford to let up, and our testing and prevention programmes must be maintained through public information and policy efforts.”
Now, officials are taking a major step forward in protecting people from infection, and hope that patient clinics across the country will be able to use the drug more quickly in those states that have previously been unable to obtain it due to capacity or cost issues.