The Australian government's $1 billion bet on Hepatitis C 'breakthrough' cures

Photo: Getty Images/ Christopher Furlong.

Australian taxpayers will spent $1 billion in “breakthrough” Hepatitis C cures in a bid to eradicate the disease completely, health minister Sussan Ley announced today.

The government plans to subsidise four “new generation” drugs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme over the next five years, making Australia one of the few countries in the world to subsidise these drugs.

There are currently 230,000 people in Australia living with Hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus which causes liver inflammation and can eventually lead to cirrhosis, end-stage liver disease and liver cancer. Around 700 deaths annually are related to chronic Hepatitis C infections. It can be transmitted through unsafe tattooing, and the sharing and re-using of needles and syringes.

“And we are currently seeing around 10,000 additional Australians diagnosed every year,” minister Sussan Ley said. “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.”

But the cost of the drugs in a treatment program is currently prohibitive, at around $100,000.

The government’s PBS support will see the price drop to just to $6.10 for concessional patients and $37.70 for others from March 2016. Treatments typically last between 8 to 24 weeks and will be available through GPs.

The minister said four drugs involved are commonly known as Harvoni, Sovaldi, Daklinza and Ibavyr.

“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.

Over the past year, there were fears that a “Dallas Buyers’ Club”-style syndicate had formed, with doctors and patients turning to overseas countries such as China and India for cheaper versions of the life-saving medications.

Earlier this year, a report released at the World STI and HIV Congress in Brisbane, revealed that Hepatitis C-related deaths have increased by 146% in the last 10 years as Australia’s ageing population continues to suffer from chronic infections.

The treatments will be available through the PBS from March 1, 2016.

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