No time to wait on new therapies, groups tell inquiry

January 22, 2015

New health minister Sussan Ley could make Hepatitis C a rare disease in Australia according to groups that appeared before yesterday's public hearing of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Hepatitis C.

There are very few occasions in history that we get the opportunity to effectively eliminate a disease, said CEO of Hepatitis Australia Helen Tyrrell. 

"We have that opportunity now," she said. 

According to Ms Tyrrell, the debate over funding new therapies goes on as the quarter of a million Australians living with Hepatitis C watch on in increasing despair.

"Just 1 per cent of Australians with the disease are currently treated," she said. "However, around three quarters are living in the danger zone - aged over 40 and at risk of developing liver disease."

All groups appearing at the hearing focussed on the urgent need to fund the new direct-acting antiviral therapies, arguing in unison that they have created the opportunity to essentially eliminate deaths from Hepatitis C.

"The new therapies mean that no Australians should die from Hepatitis C related deaths," said Professor Margaret Hellard from the Burnet Institute. "If they do, we are doing something wrong."

Professor Hellard also criticised the discussion about reinfection rates.

"We don't have that discussion for other conditions so why Hepatitis C?" she asked.

Gilead's Rob Hetherington told the hearing that, unlike many other chronic conditions, Hepatitis C can be cured.

In relation to reimbursement of the company's SOVALDI (sofosbuvir), which will be considered by the PBAC for a second time in March, Mr Hetherington confirmed that the price offered by Gilead is "the lowest in the developed world".

He said that the company had established a SOVALDI patient access program for 200 Australians with a "high and urgent need".

Mr Hetherington also compared the reimbursement timeline in Australia with the fact that 125,000 patients in the US and Europe were treated with SOVALDI in 2014.

Dr Gary Jankelowitz of MSD Australia told the hearing that treatment rates had fallen in the past year as doctors and patients waited for the new therapies to be funded.

Our thanks to PharmaDispatch for allowing us to reproduce this article in full.