A small study suggests it might be possible to shorten the length of expensive drug treatment for chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV), potentially cutting treatment time in half for 50% of patients. But managed care pharmacy clinicians say the results are far from ready to implement widely, and it’s possible the new approach might not even save money, AIS Health reported.

The study, conducted at Loyola University Chicago and three medical centers in Israel, involved only 22 patients. It used a technique called modeling-based response-guided therapy, which estimated how long it would take to completely eliminate the hepatitis C virus.

“There’s a potential to save up to 20% of the costs of hepatitis C drugs,” says study author and Loyola researcher Harel Dahari, Ph.D.

However, April Kunze, Pharm.D., senior director of clinical formulary development and trend management strategy for Prime Therapeutics LLC, says that if PBMs or health plans apply policies that use the Loyola study’s data, the result may not necessarily be lower prices for hepatitis C therapy. “Drug pricing may vary significantly based on contracts and utilization,” she says. “Additionally, patients who relapse may require additional therapy, which could increase the overall cost of treatment.”

The proof-of-concept pilot study showed that using response-guided therapy to reduce treatment times is feasible, study authors said. To validate the results, a large multi-center trial is underway in Israel.

Dahari said that in addition to cutting overall costs, shorter treatment regimens would make it easier to treat hepatitis C patients who have limited drug benefits.

Still, Mesfin Tegenu, R.Ph., president of PerformRx, says that current FDA-approved protocol for treating hepatitis C is for either eight or 12 weeks, and “it will not be easy to change current protocol” for treating hepatitis C, since “all the clinical work done by drugmakers to receive approval was done for eight or 12 weeks.”

Regardless of the prospects for the response-guided therapy approach, there could be more price upheaval coming to the HCV antiviral market in 2019. Gilead said in September that it will soon launch steeply discounted generic versions of two of its HCV drugs.