More than 630 Aussies are dying from liver failure caused by hepatitis C each year but a government committee has rejected an $84,000 treatment that could cure them. And it’s possible the residents of Fiji could access the breakthrough drug before Australian patients. Breakthrough drug Sovaldi could see the scourge of hepatitis C – currently afflicting 230,000 Australians – eventually wiped out because it cures the disease and prevents it from being passed on. Around a third of those on the nation’s liver transplant waiting list have hepatitis C and the treatment would free up those organs for others.
However, the Government’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee has rejected the medicine for subsidy because it says it too expensive and “would have a high financial impact on the health budget”. Gilead, the pharmaceutical company that makes the drug, is poised to allow licenses for cheaper generic versions of the medicine for use in India and Fiji where they can’t afford the price being asked in the developed world. Hepatitis Australia chief executive Helen Tyrrell says “there is a likelihood that Fiji will have access to the drug before Australia”.
Professor Alex Thompson, director of gastroenterology at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne says Sovaldi is a significant advance on current treatments. “This disease could become rare or non-existent, you could be talking about eradication,” Dr Thompson said. “This is a game changing medicine; it’s transforming health care, it’s life-saving and we need to make these drugs available, there is no question,” he said. Current treatments have cure rates of only 70-80 per cent compared to the 90 per cent cure rate for Sovaldi. Sovaldi has a treatment time of just 12 weeks while current treatments using interferon can take up to 44 weeks.
Some people can’t use interferon, others stop because of the side effects and just 2,500 Australians seek treatment every year.
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