The statistics are staggering: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 3.2 million individuals in the United States have chronic Hepatitis C virus infection (HCV), a viral disease that causes inflammation of the liver that can lead to diminished liver function or failure.
On Friday the U.S. FDA approved Gilead’s Harvoni, the first once-daily single tablet regiment for the treatment of chronic HCV. According to Bradley L. Freilich, M.D., AGAF, medical director of the Hepatitis Treatment Clinic at Research Medical Center—part of HCA Midwest Health, Kansas City’s leading healthcare provider—and Kansas City Gastroenterology and Hepatology Physicians Group, this approval represents a game-changer for those living with HCV and the millions who haven’t been diagnosed with the debilitating disease.
“The FDA approved a once-daily drug that has the potential of curing 94 to 98 percent of people with chronic HCV and making the disease rare by 2026,” he says. “This is revolutionary —a word I don’t often use.”
Dr. Freilich, who has been involved as a principal investigator in nearly every pioneering HCV research study within the last 20 years, will administer Harvoni to HCV patients for eight to 12 weeks, closely monitoring blood viral counts, with follow-up three months following the last dose.
“If a patient hasn’t relapsed in three months, they are considered cured of HCV,” he says. “It’s remarkable.”
Jackie DeSouza, Chief Executive Officer, says Dr. Freilich’s expertise and leadership in HCV research is an asset to healthcare in the region.“Dr. Freilich’s dedication to helping find a cure for HCV, and treating patients whose very quality of life has suffered because of the disease, illustrates a commitment to community healthcare,” she says. “That is the mission of Research Medical Center—to touch lives with hope, healing, comfort and care.”
Halina Handsaker, 65, of Overland Park, Kan., has been a patient of Dr. Freilich’s for 15 years. She was diagnosed with HCV in 1988, two years following a surgery where she received a blood transfusion.
“I knew something was terribly wrong, but it wasn’t until I went to donate blood two years later that they discovered I had the disease,” says Handsaker. “I have worked with Dr. Freilich over the years, and in June 2013 I started on a clinical trial with the new drug.”
Handsaker says she had virtually no side effects and watched her liver numbers go down, a sign of improvement. “I no longer have a dark cloud following me,” says Handsaker. “This drug changed my life—I am no longer defined by HCV, and am dedicated to joy.”
Dr. Freilich notes because they don’t look or feel sick, most people with chronic HCV are unaware they have the disease until liver damage becomes apparent, which may take several years. HCV can lead to complications such as cirrhosis, bleeding, jaundice (yellowish eyes or skin); fluid accumulation in the abdomen; infections; or liver cancer. More than 1 million people die every year from HCV- and NAFLD-related liver disease.
“The CDC and U.S. Preventive Services Task Force are recommending that primary care physicians offer screening to patients born between 1945 and 1965, which is the main demographic group that has HCV, regardless of symptoms or risk factors,” says Dr. Freilich. “It is estimated that 33 to 50 percent of people with HCV haven’t been diagnosed. We have the very real chance to eliminate this disease, or at least make it a rare occurrence.”
As the only area clinician to have experience with this newest generation of FDA-approved Hepatitis C drugs, Dr. Freilich has a unique perspective on the spectrum of HCV treatment. As a result, he opened the Hepatitis Treatment Clinic at Kansas City Gastroenterology and Hepatology Physicians Group on Research Medical Center’s Brookside Campus to facilitate screening of potential HCV in patients, and provide expert diagnosis, care and access to drugs effective in treating chronic HCV and fatty liver disease.
For more information, visit researchmedicalcenter.com.