Without a Hepatitis C Clinical Trial I'd be Financially Ruined
by Jane Mundy
When my doctor ordered blood work as part of my annual physical, he said I should also get tested for Hepatitis C. I was taken aback. "Why should I get tested, I feel great. And I've never shared a needle with anyone, I don't have a tattoo and I've never had a blood transfusion," I said. "I advise all baby boomers to get tested and there are many ways the virus is transmitted," he replied
About a week later I got the call. I was shocked, I panicked. My doctor referred me to a hepatologist (liver specialist) and my first question was how could I have hep C? He asked where I was born and turns out, I could have had the virus since I was a kid –possibly thousands and thousands of people in Canada alone who were vaccinated in the UK during the 1950s are at risk of having been unknowingly infected by the blood-borne virus, which wasn't even identified until 1989. I remember those scary glass syringes.
Fortunately, I was diagnosed at level 1, which can explain why I had no symptoms. (Level 4 includes liver failure and liver cancer). And new treatments promised higher cure rates with fewer side effects. Unfortunately, I wasn't sick enough to qualify for financial assistance: the provincial government was only paying for Harvoni, the newest and best drug on the market for those with level 2 or greater. The price tag was over $45,000.
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I had to decide: wait until I had liver damage or sell my house and pay the price. But my doctor decided for me. Would I participate in a clinical trial for a new drug called Epclusa? Sign me up!
I took one Epclusa pill daily for 12 weeks and followed up with monthly liver scans and blood tests for the next year. Finally, there was no trace of hep C, and thanks to that clinical trial I saved $45,000. And thanks to my GP for suggesting I get tested.
In a pre-approval clinical trial in 2016, 99 percent of 624 patients given the drug were virus-free after three months. In 2018, the Canadian government funded treatment for all Hep C patients.
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