'We have been waiting for this moment for so long': hepatitis C patients have access to cure with Epclusa PBS listing

An article by The Sydney Morning Herald:

More than 200,000 Australians with hepatitis C will soon be able to afford a new, highly effective treatment for the chronic, highly stigmatised infection.

From August 1, the Turnbull government will subsidise the drug Epclusa, a bumper medication combining the two antivirals sofosbuvir and velpatasvir, Health Minister Greg Hunt is set to announce on Friday.

The PBS listing means patients will pay a maximum $38.80 a month ($6.30 for concession patients) for the medication that would otherwise cost over $20,000 per treatment.

"Each year, around 800 Australians will die from hepatitis C infection and our investment in this drug is aimed at reversing this unacceptable statistic," Mr Hunt said.

Clinical trials have shown the drug has a cure rate of over 90 per cent and can be used to treat patients with any of the six hepatitis C genotypes.

"This will make it simpler for doctors to prescribe this breakthrough treatment and will boost uptake rates, particularly for rural and regional patients," Mr Hunt said ahead of the announcement on World Hepatitis Day.

Over 227,000 Australians were living with hepatitis C in 2015, government data showed.

NSW had the highest number of cases (an estimated 60,700) followed by Victoria (55,261 cases).

Australia became one of the first countries in the world to subsidise new medicines for all people over the age of 18 who have chronic hepatitis C, making a suite of treatments available on the PBS in March 2016.

New data from the Kirby Institute showed almost 40,000 people with hep C have taken up the subsidies.

But the new medication – the first pan-genotypic hepatitis C treatment in the world – would cure patients in far greater numbers than ever before, Hepatitis NSW chief executive Stuart Loveday said.

"We have been waiting for this moment for so long," Mr Loveday said. "This will eliminate hep C in Australia within 10 to 15 years.

"When patients talk about their joy of being free of hepatitis C, they are ecstatic. It's indescribable. They can finally put this terribly stigmatised illness behind them."

Currently, patients with hepatitis C would need a different treatment depending on which genotype they had.

"It was relatively complex for GPs to work out which treatment was the right one to use for their patient," Mr Loveday said.

"Now we have a cure that is so easy more GPs will have the confidence to prescribe it."

In most case patients would take one pill a day for 12 weeks, with minimal side effects, Mr Loveday said.

But treatment subsidies were only part of the push to eliminate hep C by 2020.

It would also involve prevention, early treatment and quashing the stigma surrounding the infections, 80 per cent of which are contracted through blood-to-blood contact from sharing equipment used to inject drugs.

An estimated 18 per cent of Australians with hepatitis C don't know they have the infection.

"The role of the GP is paramount. They are the best placed to talk with people and ask about blood-to-blood contact in a non-judgmental way," Mr Loveday said

The federal government has allocated more than $1 billion to fund these new medicines over the next five years.

"In addition, we continue to fund hepatitis B vaccination of all infants through the National Immunisation Program," Mr Hunt said, which so far has resulted in 96 per cent of two-year-olds being vaccinated.

From July 1, 2017, all 10 to 19 year-olds and all refugees and other humanitarian entrants became eligible for free catch-up vaccines, including hepatitis B, on an ongoing basis through the NIP.


Article by: The Sydney Morning Herald
Author: Kate Aubusson
Link to Article: http://www.smh.com.au/national/health/we-have-been-waiting-for-this-moment-for-so-long-hepatitis-c-patients-have-access-to-cure-with-epclusa-pbs-listing-20170727-gxk38b.html