Conflicts of interest complicate Hep C research debate

In 2014, the hepatitis C drug Sovaldi topped the list of Medicare spending on prescription drugs with a whopping $3.1 billion spent for the year. Sovaldi and other “direct-acting antivirals” (DAAs) have been proven to remove the Hep C virus from the blood, which most researchers say is an effective cure for the disease. However, a recent review by the Cochrane Collaborative questions whether reaching this surrogate marker actually saves lives.

This review has caused an uproar in the Hep C community, inciting a debate between Cochrane researchers and Hep C researchers and advocates. Cochrane researchers claim there is no evidence that DAAs improve mortality or that they cause fewer adverse events compared to a placebo. The researchers also found a high risk of bias in all of the included trials due to industry funding.

Many doctors have spoken up against the Cochrane review, saying the clinical trials included in the review were not designed to measure mortality or other long-term effects. They also note that the introduction of DAAs in the UK has already led to a drop in Hep-C related mortality. However, some of the doctors who criticized the Cochrane review are themselves being paid thousands of dollars by Hep-C medication manufacturers.

One thing is clear, some non-industry funded research would help the debate.