Innovation, Prime Minister? Yes Please!

1 December 2015  
Published in: PharmaDispatch; Author: Helen Tyrrell - CEO Hepatitis Australia

Today should have been the day when Australia listed four of the most innovative medicines ever developed on the PBS for the benefit of Australians living with hepatitis C.

But despite PBAC recommendations that date back to March, these breakthrough antiviral therapies – Sovaldi, Harvoni, Daklinza and Viekira Pak – are missing from the 1 December PBS listings – in fact, a timeframe for their listing remains entirely unknown.

To understand why this is at odds with the Prime Minister’s innovation agenda, we need to focus on the facts:

  • Interferon-free therapies represent the greatest innovation in hepatitis C in a generation promising to cure more than 90 per cent of people with hepatitis C in just 12 weeks.
  • For every month that access to these medicines is denied, 250 Australians with hepatitis C develop serious and potentially life-threatening liver disease.
  • This year alone, 700 Australians will lose their lives to liver disease directly attributable to hepatitis C.

We have no doubt that the Prime Minister and Federal Health Minister believe in innovation and are committed to improving the health of Australians.

The Prime Minister has met with one of his own constituents who is living with hepatitis C, so he understands the desperate need for access to a cure.

But Prime Minister, if you want Australia to be a country that encourages, values and rewards innovation, then you have to be prepared to fund the fruits of medical innovation. Research for research’s sake is no good for anyone.

Achieving the best possible price for medicines is a laudable aim – but a policy that requires every dollar spent on a new medicine to be offset with a dollar saving from another medicine is counterproductive to the Government’s innovation agenda.

Decades of underinvestment in the prevention and treatment of hepatitis C mandates urgent investment in treatments that hold the key to the elimination of hepatitis C in our lifetime.

The Federal Government will shortly release its mid-year economic forecast alongside an eagerly anticipated innovation statement – which must include a commitment to fund the most innovative hepatitis C medicines in a generation.

The Prime Minister and Health Minister have the perfect opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to innovation and end the uncertainty for Australians living with hepatitis C.