After shooting meth put her in a Missouri hospital with six days of bleeding, Heather Surface stumbled out into the January cold last year, still drug-addicted, homeless and unaware that she had a dangerous liver infection.
Two weeks later at a rehab center, she met Bruce Burkett, a wispy-bearded Army vet who’s part social worker, part public health crusader, and a boon to drugmakers for his work in finding patients who need costly, powerful treatments for the viral liver infection hepatitis C.
Burkett specializes in lining up testing and treatment for patients, and most of his work is funded by companies including Gilead Sciences Inc., AbbVie Inc. and Merck & Co.that have sold almost $50 billion of the new antivirals since they began hitting the market in 2013. Stiff competition has driven prices down and discounts up, and many insured patients have already been treated. That’s been bad news for the market leader, Gilead, which must increasingly find patients through the social service networks that target drug users and the poor. Many patients don’t even know they have the infection, which can take years to show symptoms.