Drug cures killer Hepatitis C in 90pc of patients
A 'game-changer' treatment has helped up to 80 seriously ill patients eradicate a potentially killer virus from their blood.
The treatment for Hepatitis C, which attacks the liver and can cause death, has been described as "transformative" by doctors. It was at the centre of a row over price earlier this year, prompting urgent calls for the Government to make it available in order to save the lives of a small group of patients who would die if they did not get the therapy soon.
It costs €45,000 to €55,000 per patient and was given to the patients after doctors warned they were not responding to other drugs.
Dr Suzanne Norris, a gastroenterologist at St James's Hospital in Dublin, said the patients will continue to be monitored over the coming months to determine their response.
Other treatments which can be given for up to a year have been fairly effective, with a 60 to 70pc cure rate. However, they can have unpleasant side-effects.
The new drug, Sovaldi, when taken in combination with the current treatment options - injections of interferon and ribavirin tablets - can cure up to 90pc of patients in just 12 weeks.
Earlier this year, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said a programme was being put in place to provide early access to the powerful new direct-acting anti-viral drugs for Hepatitis C patients with the greatest clinical need, due to the advanced nature of their condition.
It followed pressure from patient groups who said there was a small group of infected people who could die unless they were given the treatment. The drug manufacturers were demanding a higher price than the HSE was prepared to pay.
Following an agreement on price, Mr Varadkar said that "these drugs have the potential to bring major benefits for patients with serious illness as a result of Hepatitis C."
An early access programme will apply to patients deemed to have an urgent need for treatment.