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New Oral Hepatitis C Drugs: FAQ

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Treatment time may decline from up to 48 weeks to 12 or even less, at least in some patients.

What about side effects?

The two new drugs do not seem to have the same troubling side effects as interferon and ribavirin, which include insomnia, flu-like symptoms, and depression. For the two new drugs, fatigue, headache, and a mild skin rash are among the side effects reported, Maliakkal says.

Even though the new drugs, by themselves, have fewer troubling side effects, the side effects due to the interferon and ribavirin will still be an issue for many, doctors say.

What will they cost?

The drugs are expensive, with experts predicting costs of $60,000 or more for the 12-week course.

The wholesale cost of a 12-week course of Olysio, for instance, will be about $66,000, according to Craig Stoltz of Janssen.

Janssen will offer programs for patients in need of financial help, Stoltz says.

The wholesale cost of a 12-week course of Sovaldi will be about $84,000, according to Cara Miller of Gilead Sciences. Gilead is launching a patient-assistance program to help those in need pay for the drug, she says.

Costs to patients for both drugs will depend on their insurance plan.

What's on the horizon for hepatitis C treatment?

Even better treatment options are coming soon, experts say.

"This is a minor revolution," Maliakkal says of the two new oral drugs. "What is coming is truly revolutionary."

Within a year, he predicts, the FDA will approve other drugs for hepatitis C. These will be combined with the two newly approved drugs, or each other, and make interferon and ribavirin unnecessary, he says.

As more data come out about various combinations of the oral drugs, doctors will find the most effective regimen, Masur says. He predicts the treatment time will decline and the success rate will rise.

One option could be combining the two new drugs, says William Carey, MD, a staff hepatologist at Cleveland Clinic.

Research has shown it's effective, even in hard-to-treat patients.

But Maliakkal says combining the two would cost patients far too much. He doubts insurance plans would cover the two together.

The future looks bright, but financial obstacles remain, he says. "Hepatitis C is going to be completely treatable," Maliakkal says, "except for the cost."

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