Government Pledges $1bn For 'New Generation' Hep C Treatment

20/12/2015 8:09 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Fairfax/Andrew Meares

The Federal Government will subsidise Hepatitis C treatments to the tune of $1 billion in a bid to fast-track the eradication of the potentially fatal disease from Australia.

Health Minister Sussan Ley said on Sunday that Australia would become one of the first nations in the world to publicly subsidise "breakthrough" Hep C cures that can currently cost patients up to $100,000.

She said the subsidy would be available for all Hep C sufferers in Australia, irrespective of their condition or how they contracted the illness.

The move aims to eliminate the disease from Australia within a generation.

"With this announcement there is great hope we can not only halt the spread of this deadly infectious virus, but eradicate it altogether in time,” she said.

“More-than 230,000 Australians are estimated to be currently living with Hepatitis C ... we are currently seeing around 10,000 additional Australians diagnosed every year.

"As a result, deaths from primary liver cancer, for which untreated Hepatitis C is a major driver, are rising faster than for any other cancer."

Hepatitis C is an infectious blood borne virus that attacks the liver, causing its inflammation, and may lead to cirrhosis, end-stage liver disease, liver cancer and even death.

Sunday's announcement means a number of drug combinations to treat the disease will be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) from March next year.

Under the changes, Hep C patients would pay the ordinary PBS co-payment for the medicines -- $6.10 for concessional patients and $37.70 for general patients.

The $1 billion in funding will be rolled out over five years, the government said.

Ley said the big spend was accounted for in last week's mid-year economic and fiscal outlook (MYEFO), but was not announced at the time.

The new-generation drugs being listed are Sofosbuvir with ledipasvir (Harvoni), Sofosbuvir (Sovaldi), Daclatasvir (Daklinza), and Ribavirin (Ibavyr).

Hepatitis Australia chief executive, Helen Tyrrell, described the announcement as "terrific".

"So many people have been anxiously waiting for this announcement. This is wonderful news and it is such a relief to have an end to the uncertainty,” she said.

“We congratulate Minister Ley who has delivered on her commitment to list these medicines as swiftly as she can and to make them available for everyone with Hepatitis C, which hasn’t been achieved elsewhere.

“Christmas will be a particularly joyous time this year for many living with Hepatitis C."

She said new Hepatitis C therapies had cure rates of more than 90 percent, shorter treatment times and avoided the "debilitating side-effects associated with existing therapies".

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