Curing HCV – Private companies stand on the shoulders of taxpayer funded research

An estimated 2.7-3.9 million Amuricans are infected with the Hepatitis C Virus [a fact based on testing by the Centers for Disease Control (which receives its funding from the Department of Health & Human Services)].  60-70 % of these people will go on to develop up chronic liver disease (1), many of whom will require blood transfusions to stay alive.  People born between 1945 and 1965 account for 75% of these infections (2).

Gilead Pharmaceuticals, a publicly-traded company, developed Harvoni, which is as close to a cure for Hepatitis C Virus as you can get.  So we should ditch government-funded research and let the private sector come up with new drugs, right?

<WRONG>

Long before it came up with its cure, there was a lot of government-funded research that got the field to the point where it was profitable for Gilead to even think of developing a cure.  To pick just three points in time where grant money from the Department of Health & Human Services was required (there are hundreds, maybe thousands more):

(1975) Scientists at the National Institutes of Health had to discover that there were humans hepatitis cases caused by an unknown virus. (here)  [National Institutes of Health is a part of the Dept of Health & Human Services]   At the time Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B viruses were known but HCV was not. HCV itself was actually discovered in ~1979 by Michael Houghton while at Chiron, corporation yes, but he didn’t do it in a vacum.

(1993) The laboratories of Charles Rice at  Washington University in St Louis and Stephen Feinstone at the Food and Drug Administration had to discover how many different genes and proteins the virus has (here) [funded by a grant from the US Public Health Service, which is part of the Dept. of Health & Human Services and presumably FDA (an agency within Dept of Health & Human Services) paid Feinstone’s salary]

(2000) The laboratory of Charles Rice had to discover the role of the NS5a and NS5b proteins in HCV infection (here) – these are the targets of Gilead’s Harvoni [2 grants from US Public Health Service]

Look for yourself – the grants that paid for the research are always listed in scientific publications.

So we have a cure for a virus infecting millions of baby boomers because the federal government funded work that produced discoveries that finally made it profitable for private industry to look for a cure.

Find your US Representative here.

Find your US Senator here.

 

(1) – https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/hcvfaq.htm

(2) – https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/populations/1945-1965.htm

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About SubOptimist

I am an Associate Professor in the Science Department at Georgia Perimeter College, Clarkston. I teach introductory biology courses at both the majors and non-majors level in addition to microbiology. Previous to that I spent 7 years as a postdoctoral researcher on different viruses. While I don't miss being on the "grant treadmill", I think better when I write and miss writing up data for papers and grants; this blog helps me with that a little. And sometimes my kids' insanely funny and cute antics need to be shared with the world. Any view expressed in this blog is that of me personally and not Georgia Perimeter College or the GPC Clarkston Science Department.
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