[Ip-health] Guardian: Government to subsidise hepatitis C treatment in effort to eradicate disease

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Tue Jan 5 05:54:08 PST 2016


Government to subsidise hepatitis C treatment in effort to eradicate disease

Health minister announces $1bn towards subsiding four drugs that halt the
spread of hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus estimated to affect 230,000

Shalailah Medhora

Sunday 20 December 2015 02.50 GMTLast modified on Sunday 20 December
201503.41 GMT

Listing four medicines on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme that cure
hepatitis C will dramatically increase access to the drugs and help
eradicate the disease within a generation, the federal health minister,
Sussan Ley, said.

On Sunday, Ley announced the government would subsidise the four key drugs,
an investment that will cost the commonwealth $1bn over five years.

A course of treatment can cost up to $100,000, making it prohibitively
expensive for many of the estimated 230,000 Australians who suffer from the

After being listed on the PBS, the same drugs will cost $37.70 for general
patients and $6.10 for concessional patients, per script. The listing
starts on 1 March, 2016.

“[This is] good news before Christmas,” Ley told reporters in Canberra on
Sunday. “We’re one of the first, if not the first, jurisdictions in the
world to say every patient in every circumstance deserves the earliest
possible access to these new medicines.

“I want very much that Australia is able to cure hep C within a
generation,” she said. “Today’s announcement actually allows that to

The announcement comes just days after the government released its budget
update, Myefo.

Ley defended the decision not to reveal the new listings in Myefo, saying
the government had to wait until confidential negotiations with drug
companies were finalised.

“The process is long, and when the drugs are breakthrough and the prices
are high, sometimes it take a while to get it right,” the health minister
said. “We waited to get this absolutely right, to list all four drugs

The $1bn for the new listings was part of the Myefo contingency reserve.
The budget update also contained a separate $620m boost for the PBS, taking
the government’s total spend on it to over $1.6bn over the four-year
forward estimates period.

Funding for the hepatitis C drugs is not reliant on the parliament passing
changes to bulk-billing incentives for pathology and diagnostic services,
which would save around $650m.

Sussan Ley concedes some patients will pay more with new bulk-billing rules

Hepatitis Australia welcome the listing of the drugs.

“Christmas will be a particularly joyous time this year for many living
with hepatitis C as they can now look forward to the prospect of a cure and
a much healthier future,” chief executive officer, Helen Tyrrell, said. “We
look forward to 2016 as the watershed year for hepatitis C in Australia as
more people are treated and cured and we start to arrest spiralling rates
of liver disease.”

Tyrrell said medical intervention alone will not eradicate the blood-borne
disease, and that preventative measures like needle and syringe programs
and education on the disease were also needed.

“They have to go hand-in-hand. There is no single solution to hep C,” she
told Guardian Australia. “This has to be looked at holistically.”

Tyrrell said she is not worried about funding for preventative programs
being cut as a result of the drug listing, arguing the federal government
is committed to a “multipronged” approach to eradicating the infectious

The virus is spread through blood-to-blood contact, though can also be
present in saliva, semen and vaginal fluid. Intravenous drug users are
especially vulnerable to catching the infectious disease.

Ley will work with state and territory governments to make sure prisoners,
who make up nearly one in three of all hepatitis C sufferers in Australia,
have access to the subsidised drugs.

Labor has criticised the Coalition for taking so long to list the drugs,
which the pharmaceutical benefits advisory committee recommended for the
PBS in March this year.

“Today’s announcements mean people with hepatitis C will be denied access
to these drugs for 12 months, which has seen some patients resort to
forming ‘Dallas Buyers Clubs’ to gain access to the drugs,” the shadow
health minister, Catherine King, said. “Labor believes this process has now
dragged on for too long and the government should deliver on its promise to
quickly make available drugs recommended for inclusion on the PBS.”

The four drugs – Sofosbuvir with ledipasvir (Harvoni); Sofosbuvir
(Sovaldi); Daclatasvir (Daklinza); and Ribavirin (Ibavyr) – have an
eradication rate of more than 90% when taken correctly.

In most cases, an eight- to 12-week course of drugs is all it takes to
eradicate hepatitis C, a disease that attacks the liver and can cause
cirrhosis and liver cancer. Some patients need a combination of the four
drugs in order to stop the virus, which has six different strands.

Hepatitis C racks up 10,000 new Australian sufferers a year, and kills a
further 700 Australians.

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