Access to new treatments
On March 24, multiple provinces announced they would begin footing the bill for the first once-daily, single tablet regimen for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) genotype 1 infection in adults, a combination of two drugs – ledipasvir and sofosbuvir (Harvoni™), produced by Gilead Sciences Canada Inc.. Hepatitis C is a significant health issue in Canada. The Public Health Agency of Canada has reported that approximately 1000 deaths each year can be attributed to hepatitis C.
“With at least 250,000 Canadians living with hepatitis C and new drugs available that allow for over 90% cure rates, AHC is thankful that many provinces and the Yukon recognized the importance of adding these lifesaving drugs to their formularies,” commented Patricia Bacon, Chair of AHC. “Getting these drugs to patients is a first step toward a healthier Canadian community where people living with hepatitis C can access the care they need and the cure they deserve.”
British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and the Yukon have announced that the drug will be covered, following negotiations that saw the provinces and territories working together through the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance (pCPA) to reach an agreement to make the new drugs more affordable. Prices agreed upon are being kept confidential. With the exception of Quebec, who is negotiating separately, the other provinces and territories are involved in this negotiation as well and their decisions are expected shortly.
New treatments much more tolerable
Treatment protocols for hepatitis C used to include the drug interferon, and involved repeated injections for up to 48 weeks, with severe side effects for many people, and resulting in cure rates of less than 60%. New drugs that have 94-99% cure rates, few side effects, and a treatment time of as few as eight weeks were approved by Health Canada in 2014, but the price tag (starting at $86,000) kept the treatment out of reach for most.
Treatment criteria still emerging
While an outline of specific treatment criteria is still pending and will likely vary from province-to-province, today’s announcement is certainly an important step toward the elimination of hepatitis C in Canada. British Columbia has announced that eligible patients can apply starting today, and the BC Minister of Health says they expect to treat 1500 BC residents in the first year.
Increased screening for Hep C still needed
Action Hepatitis Canada and its member organizations continue to call for increased Hep C screening, encouraging everyone born between 1945 and 1975 to be tested. Studies show this age group is disproportionally at risk for HCV infection, and as many as 40-70% do not realize they have been infected. People living with undiagnosed Hep C often show no symptoms for years and/or until liver damage is advanced. In 2013, liver specialists reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that the best time to be diagnosed and treated is before the individual shows symptoms, resulting in a dramatic decrease in HCV-related morbidity and mortality, as well as a decrease in economic impact. For this reason increased one-time screening is recommended.
About Action Hepatitis Canada
AHC is a national coalition of 35 organizations responding to hepatitis B and C. Our work engages government, policy makers, and civil society across Canada to promote hepatitis B and C prevention, improve access to care and treatment, increase knowledge and innovation, create public health awareness, build health-professional capacity, and support community-based groups and initiatives.
Jennifer van Gennip at email@example.com