Monday, May 16, 2011

Question of the Week: How Do You Respond to a New Hope?

HopeImage by bitzcelt via Flickr
A few days ago, on Friday the 13th of May 2011, the first antiviral drug for the treatment of hepatitis C was approved by the FDA. Merck's antiviral drug named boceprevir, which will be to be sold as Victrelis, is the first new drug approved for the treatment of hepatitis C in 20 years. It is the first of many new antiviral drugs in the pharmaceutical research and development pipeline that are destined to change the way hepatitis C is treated in the 21st century.

Now that is pretty heady stuff.

Lord knows I have been waiting for this day since the late 1990s. I thought for sure that these antiviral drugs would be just around the corner after the release of the first antiviral drugs for the treatment of HIV in 1995. I was actually looking forward to my own antiviral cocktail to take care of my hepatitis C infection so I could cross it off my list of current health problems.

I've waited a long time for this day. Today I can see the first rays of hope coming through the window.

That said, I'm feeling quite a few different things after hearing this good news.

I'll be honest, my first reaction was, "What the heck took so long?!?"

Then, when I read the prescribing guidelines for Victrelis, I felt both disappointed and fearful.

Victrelis is not a stand-alone treatment and at this time must be administered along with the standard treatment of peginterferon and ribavirin.

Then I read the list of side effects. The side effect I'm most worried about is anemia, a known side effect of ribavirin and now apparently a side effect of Victrelis too. Anemia from ribavirin landed me in the hospital back in 2007 and made my doctors think I was having a heart attack. It took me several months to recover from that hospitalization, an experience I am not eager to repeat.

In addition, either missing or taking one dose late of Victrelis opens the door and allows the hepatitis C virus to build resistance against this new drug. That means I would literally have to be perfect in taking this medication, something that almost seems impossible to do.

My third reaction was confusion. I got mixed up watching a video that talked about when you start taking this new drug and how long you need to take it. It seems there are several different timetables depending on how you respond to treatment.

I admit that my initial excitement was tempered when I got behind the headline and immersed into the details.

So despite the good news, I know the waiting isn't quite over yet for me. Since I had so many problems when I attempted the standard treatment back in 2007, I think I need to continue to hold out for an antiviral cocktail that doesn't include the current standard treatment so I can avoid the side effect of anemia.

I know I'm not alone when it comes to waiting for new drugs to be approved for treatment. I'm aware that back in March the first new drug in over 50 years for the treatment of lupus was approved by the FDA. In the last several years, the FDA approved the first three drugs for the treatment of fibromyalgia.

So this week I'm wondering what your reactions have been when you've heard about new drugs being approved for the treatment of your chronic illnesses. How do you respond when you hear about a new hope?

Now I'm really hoping that the tech geeks at Blogger and Google have fixed that problem which prevent some of you from reading my blog and leaving comments last Thursday and Friday. But if that is not the case, then this would be a good week to check out the Oh My Aches and Pains Facebook page and join the discussion there.

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phylor said...

A very timely question for me, as I was just reading about a new antidepressant that is coming onto the market later this year.
I guess I take something that might be a "breakthrough" or potentially a new medication that might work without the usual side effects with a grain of salt. Since my luck with for example, finding an antidepressant that a)works without side effects b)isn't an extended release product c) continues to work for a prolonged period of time, and d) is covered/allowed by my health insurance provider hasn't been great, I don't place too much expectation on the new drug I was reading about.
A while ago, I followed the development of another medication (for a different health issue) from a mention in a health report through the clinical trial and then FDA approval. I really hoped this new approach would work, and I did project some expectations onto it. As soon as it got approval, and my health insurance provider would cover it, I tried it. For me, it did nothing. It had varying levels of success for other folks.
I tend to be a pessimist about most things. In relation to my health, I try and remain optimistic, but realistic, about new possible treatments. I don't want to be too negative about my health in general.
Great question to ask! Hope you get lots of great responses.

erinj0 said...

I am very hesitant towards new hope. I am always optimistic, but I never want to get my hopes up, too much!

Jeni said...

Slow progress is better than no progress. We also need to remember that many drugs are designed for one problem--and either as a side-effect or alternative effect they find that it works on something else. My illness is not life-threatening albeit life-limiting, but if it were I think I would rather decide for myself whether the benefit outweighed the risks rather than take a chance it wouldn't be released until they got the kinks worked out. All treatments have risks, especially medications...but it's a step in the right direction.