Research Highlight: Cutting-Edge Research in Pharmacoeconomics

SOP’s Dr. Soumana Nasser finds cost-effective ways to treat hepatitis C.

By Irina du Quenoy

Hepatitis C, an infectious disease caused by the HCV virus, affects an estimated 143 million people worldwide. Because the initial symptoms are mild, the disease often remains untreated in the early stages, possibly leading to complications such as liver failure or cancer. However, “the availability of innovative therapy has significantly improved the outcome of patients with hepatitis C infection when diagnosed at an early stage,” says Dr. Soumana Nasser, clinical associate professor and chair of Pharmacy Practice at LAU.

Recently, Nasser served as principal investigator on a research project that resulted in a peer-reviewed article titled “Cost-Effectiveness of Novel Treatment of Hepatitis C Virus in Lebanese Patients,” published in the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacy. The Pharmacoeconomics study provides policymakers with evidence that the initial expense of giving early-stage patients access to innovative though expensive therapy would, in the long-term, prove cost-efficient by saving on the cost of treatment at the advanced stages of the disease.

Pharmacoeconomics (or PE) is a field dedicated to evaluating the cost and effects of pharmaceutical products or therapies, in terms of monetary outlay, efficacy or enhanced quality of life. “Worldwide, health professional bodies increasingly use outcomes-based and PE/health economics data to support their decision-making on guidelines/choice of therapies in the healthcare system,” says Nasser.

For example, hepatitis C treatment in Lebanon is currently constrained by the fact that state-of-the art treatment at the early stages of the affliction is quite expensive. The study Nasser led is aimed at solving this problem:  “The data we obtained should alleviate the pressure that Lebanese policymakers are dealing with when addressing patients’ access to innovative therapy despite scarcity of resources and budget constraints.”

According to the Dean of LAU’s School of Pharmacy Dr. Imad Btaiche, “The financial implications of medication therapy are an important consideration in pharmacy practice.” Indeed, he says, “with escalating healthcare costs, pharmacoeconomic analysis balances medication cost containment with treatment benefits and patient outcomes.”

In another recent PE study, accepted for publication in the regional issue of the International Society of Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research’s (ISPOR) official journal Value in Health, Nasser looked at the current challenges and long-term impact of cost-sharing and risk-sharing arrangements between third-party payers and pharmaceutical companies in the MENA region. “Agreements of this type are aimed at providing patient access to innovative therapies despite their high costs,” Nasser explains.

Throughout her career, Nasser has sought to apply her PE research and pharmacy practice in assisting healthcare policymakers, in line with LAU faculty’s general mission to produce research that has a positive impact on society outside the university’s walls. Current research plans include measuring the impact of patients’ treatment on their quality of life. “This is an essential outcome measure used in health economics in addition to clinical and cost-effectiveness data,” she concludes.