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Low-cost generic hepatitis C drugs match branded products in viral response
Keith Alcorn, 2016-04-16 23:20:00
Generic versions of direct-acting antivirals purchased from China and India
by people unable to obtain treatment in their own countries were just as
effective and safe as the branded products, a study of 139 patients monitored
by Australian doctor James Freeman has shown. The findings were presented in a
late-breaking research session at the International Liver Congress in Barcelona
The study presented preliminary data on sustained virological response four
weeks after the completion of treatment, labelled SVR4. The gold standard measurement
of cure in hepatitis C is the absence of detectable virus 12 weeks after
completing treatment (SVR12), but SVR4 results tend to provide a strong
indication of SVR12 results, since the majority of cases of viral relapse occur
in the four weeks after completion of treatment.
The high cost of branded direct-acting antivirals has led to rationing of
treatment, slow drug approvals and refusal of insurance coverage in many
countries. People unable to obtain hepatitis C treatment through existing
health care have turned in desperation to the FixHepC
buyer’s club for help in obtaining generic versions of sofosbuvir,
sofosbuvir/ledipasvir and daclatasvir.
Importation of medicines for personal use is permitted under customs
regulations in Australia and the United Kingdom, and many other countries have
regulations permitting the importation of small amounts of medicines for
personal use or their carriage through customs in personal luggage. The FixHepC
buyer’s club provided advice and information on how to do this safely and
legally, starting in Australia, but soon responding to enquiries from people in
Europe, North America, New Zealand and South East Asia.
Dr James Freeman, a doctor based in Hobart, Tasmania, started to take an
interest in how to treat patients safely with generic direct-acting antivirals
after a patient came to him and asked for advice on how to import and use
active pharmaceutical ingredients, obtained from Chinese manufacturers, to
treat hepatitis C. Dr Freeman arranged to have them tested to ensure that they
were indeed active drug, and to have the chemicals compounded into pills in
Australia. The FixHepC buyer’s club was born.
Product obtained from China and subsequently formulated into pills was
tested by nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometry, a technique used in
pharmaceutical manufacturing to measure the quantity of active pharmaceutical
ingredient in a pill. All products contained active drug in the expected
After generic products became available from manufacturers in Bangladesh and
India the buyer’s club discouraged imports from China and began arranging for
individuals who wanted to obtain direct-acting antivirals to buy products from
reputable suppliers in India, in order to reduce risks in the supply chain.
In January 2016 Dr Freeman began enrolling patients who used the buyer’s
club to obtain medication in an observational cohort study, the Reviewing DAA
Efficacy Managing Patient Treatment In Online Neighbourhoods (REDEMPTION)
Treatment used in this study cost between $1400 and $1600 for a course of
medication, compared to a cost of up to $84,000 in the United States. Prices of
generic products manufactured in India are likely to fall, possibly as low as
$200 per course of treatment, as production increases.
The findings presented at the International Liver Congress are virologic
response data four weeks after completion of treatment for the first patients
without decompensated cirrhosis who obtained generic products with the support
of the FixHepC buyer’s club and who were monitored through the Australian
gp2u.com.au telemedicine platform. Virological monitoring was carried out by
the patients’ own doctors.
Of the 448 patients enrolled to date, 48.4% had undergone previous HCV
treatment, 31% had cirrhosis and the average age was 54 years. Genotypes 1 and
3 predominated (65% and 27.5% respectively). The most commonly-used combination
were sofosbuvir/ledipasvir (45.8%) and sofosbuvir/daclatasvir (42.6%). A small
minority used either sofosbuvir/ledipasvir and ribavirin (4.7%) or
sofosbuvir/daclatasvir and ribavirin (6%).
Virological monitoring during treatment showed that viral load changes
closely resembled those reported in clinical trials of the combinations used by
patients. SVR4 data are available for 139 patients who have completed treatment
and undergone viral load testing four weeks after completing treatment.
The overall sustained virological response rate four weeks after completion
of treatment was 94.2%. In genotype 1 patients treated with
sofosbuvir/ledipasvir, 93.2% had a sustained virologic response at
post-treatment week 4 (SVR4) and 97.4% of those who received
sofosbuvir/daclatasvir achieved SVR4. Ninety per cent of the 29 patients with
genotype 3 achieved SVR4, and 100% of those with genotypes 2 (n=6), 4 (n=3) and
5 or 6 (n=2) achieved SVR4.
One case of viral breakthrough during treatment occurred. Four deaths
occurred during the study, all due to hepatocellular carcinoma. The remaining
virological failures were virologic relapses after the completion of treatment.
Virological responses four weeks after the completion of treatment did not
differ substantially from those observed 12 weeks post-treatment in clinical
trials of sofosbuvir/ledipasvir or sofosbuvir/daclatasvir, where rates of
sustained virological response ranged from 90% in genotype 3 to 96% in genotype
No previously unreported side effects were observed. Headache, nausea and
fatigue were the most commonly reported adverse events. Three patients with
compensated cirrhosis temporarily decompensated after treatment initiation but
continued their courses of treatment.
Further studies are underway to generate more information on the use of generic
products in the full range of genotypes found worldwide. “It won’t be long
before the [size of the] datasets for generics surpass those produced by
companies,” said Dr Freeman.
He warned that anyone seeking to obtain medication from generic producers should
look for reputable manufacturers and should be monitored by a doctor. The
FixHepC website contains details of how to identify reputable suppliers, how to
import medicines legally into Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand,
and details of how to join the REDEMPTION cohort study.
The findings were greeted positively by the European Association for the
Study of the Liver, the organizer of the International Liver Congress.
“There is a clear role for generic treatments such as these for people with
Hepatitis C across the world. The implications of increased availability of
these drugs could be enormous, presenting more people with the possibility of a
‘cure’ for what is often a debilitating condition,” said Professor Laurent
Castera, EASL Secretary General.