About 75,000 people in the Canadian province of British Columbia (B.C.) estimated to have hepatitis C will soon have better access to treatment for this potentially life-threatening disease.
The B.C. Ministry of Health has announced that a round of negotiations brokered by the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance (pCPA) has been a success. British Columbia and the province of Ontario co-led negotiations with the drug manufacturers on behalf of the alliance.
“This agreement changes the landscape for hepatitis C patients living in B.C.,” Terry Lake, the province’s Health Minister, said in a press release. “Not only are there four new treatment options for what is now a curable virus, but the savings that were negotiated will allow us to cover treatment options for all hepatitis C patients – rather than just those in more advanced stages of the disease.”
All of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories have been working collaboratively to obtain greater value in purchasing both brand name and generic drugs for their publicly funded drug programs.
These initiatives, now referenced collectively as the pCPA, were formerly known as the Pan-Canadian Pricing Alliance and the Generic Value Price Initiative. The alliance helps provinces and territories collectively leverage their buying power and negotiate better prices for new drugs, resulting in significant cost savings and allowing better and more reasonably priced drugs for eligible patients.
The pCPA has reached agreements with drug manufacturers Gilead Sciences Canada, Merck Canada, and Bristol-Myers Squibb Canada to provide several hepatitis C drugs, including four new listings, at a lower cost than if provinces had negotiated individually.
The newly available medicines are Daklinza (daclatasvir), Epclusa (sofosbuvir/velpatasvir), Sunvepra (asunaprevir), and Zepatier (elbasvir/grazoprevir). Previously available Harvoni (ledipasvir/sofosbuvir) and Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) remain covered by the new agreement.
While prices and terms in the agreement are confidential, the B.C. Ministry of Health says the list cost to the provincial healthcare system for hepatitis C treatment has varied from $45,000 to more than $100,000 per patient, depending on the drug used and progression of the disease in individual cases.
From March 2015 to December 2016, B.C. PharmaCare provided coverage to about 3,800 people for medications to treat chronic hepatitis C.
With the new agreement in place, B.C. PharmaCare will this month expand its criteria, making it possible to provide drug coverage to more patients with hepatitis C. Physicians in the province will be able to apply for coverage of the new drugs on behalf of their patients starting March 21. In 2018-2019, the PharmaCare program will provide coverage for all British Columbians living with chronic hepatitis C, regardless of type or severity.
According to the B.C. Ministry of Health, hepatitis C, for which there is no preventative vaccine, is now the most frequent cause of premature death among reportable infectious diseases in North America, and also of mortality in people living with both hepatitis C and HIV.
While the immune systems of approximately 24 percent of people exposed to hepatitis C are able to fight the infection and clear it without intervention, left untreated the disease can result in serious complications that can include liver failure and liver cancer.
The Ministry notes that the new hepatitis C therapies are highly effective and able to clear the virus at rates exceeding 95 percent. Still, risk reduction strategies are recommended for those at higher risk of re-acquiring the virus after successful treatment, such as intravenous drug users, commercial sex workers, and men who have sex with men.
Hepatitis C symptoms may include jaundice, fatigue, abdominal pain and joint pain. But many people harboring the virus have no symptoms, and roughly one-quarter of people living with hepatitis C are unaware they have the disease.
More information on the pCPA can be found here.
For more information about B.C.’s PharmaCare program, please visit this link.