Saturday 21 September 2019

UP to 80 seriously ill Hepatitis C patients have cleared virus from their blood

New treatment was given to the patients after doctors warned they were not responding to other drugs.
New treatment was given to the patients after doctors warned they were not responding to other drugs.

Eilish O'Regan, Health Correspondent

UP to 80 patients, who were seriously ill with Hepatitis C which attacks the liver, have cleared the virus from their blood after receiving powerful new treatment.

The treatment, which costs around €45,000 to €55,000 per patient 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.

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 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:"I am very pleased that we can commence the use of these new medicines in Ireland.  These  drugs  have  the  potential  to  bring  major benefits for patients  with  serious  illness as a result of Hepatitis C.

"I also want to thank Gilead, Janssen and Bristol Myers Squibb for agreeing to enter into negotiations with the HSE and the Department of Health in the interests of these seriously ill patients."

He said the early access programme will apply to patients deemed to have an urgent need for treatment, and for whom previously licensed drug treatments would not be appropriate.

A number of powerful new direct-acting antiviral therapies are nowlicensed in Europe for people with Hepatitis C.However, he said that as with "other countries, Ireland must ensure that access to high-cost treatments such as these is managed, in order to prioritise access for patients who can benefit most, while ensuring that the financing model is sustainable and affordable. The aim is to provide access for as many patients as possible, within the resources provided by taxpayers.

"For that reason, the Department of Health has also set up an advisory group to consider a multi-annual approach to the clinical and public health management of Hepatitis C.

The  patients who have now received the treatment were  identified  by clinical experts as suffering  from very serious liver disease and to be most likely to benefit substantially .

The HSE reached agreement with Gilead Sciences on the pricing of Sovaldi® (sofosbuvir), in combination with other licensed medicines or with the unlicensed Gilead medication, ledipasvir.

Other interim agreements were entered into with Janssen and Bristol Myers Squibb in relation to commercial arrangements around two other new Hepatitis C medicines: Simeprevir (Brand name - Olysio) and Daclatasvir.

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