(Bloomberg) — Hepatitis C patients who use intravenous drugs were cured at a high rate by Merck & Co.’s experimental therapy, a study found, a result that could put pressure on U.S. states to more broadly cover new treatments for a group that’s at high risk of reinfection.
Many states require people with hepatitis C to prove that they abstain from drug use before getting covered through Medicaid, the U.S.’s state-run health program for the poor. In Merck’s study of 301 intravenous drug users, 95 percent of patients treated in the trial were cured of the virus, Merck (NYSE:MRK) said Saturday in a statement. In addition, 97 percent of patients took at least 95 percent of their hepatitis C drugs. Patients in the trail were also taking daily medicine to treat opioid addiction.
Intravenous drug users are the “hot core” of people with hepatitis C, according to Eliav Barr, head of infectious diseases at Merck, and few large studies have looked at the effectiveness of new oral therapies in treating them. A U.S. government study found that nearly half of young people who have ever injected narcotics like prescription painkillers or heroin have the virus, which spreads easily through needles.
“These are not-out-of control folks who are strung out on the street,” Barr said by phone on Wednesday. “They’re much more emblematic of people who are IV drug users who are trying to kick the habit.”
State Medicaid programs have in many cases put restrictions on new hepatitis C treatments made by Gilead Sciences Inc. (Nasdaq:GILD) and AbbVie Inc. (Nasdaq:ABBV). While the treatments are highly effective, governments have balked at list prices that can exceed $1,000 a day.