Source: PharmaDispatch. Author: Paul Cross

Patient uptake might be languishing in Australia but England has acted and announced a new deal with companies that will involve the pro-active identification of people living with hepatitis C.

England's National Health Service (NHS) has announced a long-term plan based on a deal with three companies - Gilead, MSD and AbbVie - that will seek to "proactively identify and treat" people unaware they have hepatitis C, including the homeless and those living with mental health issues.

Many people are unaware they have hepatitis C because the infection can have no specific symptoms until the liver has been significantly damaged.

The NHS has described the deal as "world-leading" with the goal of England becoming "the first country in the world to eliminate the deadly virus."

According to the NHS, the companies will provide five new hepatitis C medicines and launch initiatives in collaboration with local health services to find potential patients, test for infection and provide treatment.

"This agreement arises from a new procurement approach undertaken by NHS England, maximising competition between drug companies to secure the best possible deal for patients and taxpayers. NHS England’s strategy was supported by the High Court in January earlier this year," said the NHS in a statement.

The deal in England comes as the uptake of the therapies in Australia continues to languish and even decline. 

Hepatitis Australia has consistently called for policy intervention as monthly new patient initiations have fallen well below what is required for Australia to meet the goal of elimination by 2030. 

MSD recently announced it would terminate all promotional and medical education for its PBS-listed hepatitis C therapy, ZEPATIER, partly attributing the decision to the current pricing arrangement.

Hepatitis Australia said it "applauds" the NHS England’s commitment to making elimination of Hepatitis C a reality, not only through contractual arrangements similar to those in Australia buts also its commitment to “work with hep C drug companies to identify infected patients who need treatment”.

"Australia was a world leader in providing universal access but we are now falling behind in identifying those who will benefit from treatment," said the organisation in a statement.

It continued, "The well-informed have already been cured, but it is clear from the downward trend in hepatitis C treatment initiations that a much greater level of assistance is required to reach the remaining 150,000 people living with hepatitis C. 

"In Australia we are aiming for a 65% reduction in mortality by 2022 – without further action this national target will soon become unachievable, time is running out.

"Some new visionary thinking alongside a good dose of political will is going to be needed to reach the target. To that end we were fascinated to hear about the innovative approach just announced by NHS England to find and treat people living with hepatitis C. We now look to the incoming Australian government to back innovations like this to drive the uptake of hepatitis C treatment, save lives and facilitate the elimination of hepatitis C as a public health threat, a legacy that any government can be proud of."

Notes: Republished with the permission of PharmaDispatch

Photo by Emily Wang on Unsplash