England's NHS Allots Big Bucks for Hepatitis C Treatment

England's National Health Services has increased its budget for new hepatitis C drugs to a whopping £190 million, amounting to nearly 215 million US dollars (at current exchange rates) and more than triple the amount allotted last year.

England’s National Health Services has increased its budget for new hepatitis C drugs to a whopping £190 million, amounting to nearly 215 million US dollars (at current exchange rates) and more than triple the amount allotted last year.

The increased funds to pick up the tab for virological cures for hepatitis C is the single largest investment in new treatment this year, according to a NHS news release. The amount is up from about £40 million last year.

Hepatitis C is a blood borne virus that if left unchecked can lead to chronic infection and seriously damage the liver. England health officials estimate that 160,000 people in that country are chronically infected with the disease but only about 3% are treated each year due in part to a low diagnosis rate and the silent nature of the disease, which can survive in the body for years without showing symptoms.

Recent advances in direct-acting antiviral hepatitis C treatments have improved cure rates and greatly reduced the length of treatment for most patients. However Sovaldi, sold by California-based Gilead Sciences, and other newly approved regimens are pricey and in the US can cost up to $84,000 for 12 weeks of treatment for one person.

The increased funding means thousands of patients with cirrhosis caused by Hepatitis C can be treated with new drugs in an effort to stop further damage to the liver and to prevent end stage liver disease or cancer, the release states. It is part of an early access scheme that offers treatment to patients who might otherwise die or become so ill that they need a liver transplant.

“At a time when funding is inevitably constrained across the NHS this is a huge new investment; in fact it’ll be the NHS’ single largest new treatment expansion this year,” Richard Jeavons, NHS England’s Director of Specialized Services stated in the release. “That’s why we’re also running a competitive tendering process in parallel, to seek to bring down the price of these very expensive new drugs.”

The United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) had previously recommended Solvaldi when it decided last year that the drug was a cost-effective option to treat some people who have chronic hepatitis C. However, NICE gave NHS England extra time until the end of July 2015 before it had to comply with the recommendation.

Charles Gore, Chief Executive of the Hepatitis C Trust commented in the release that access to new anti-viral drugs will help patients with cirrhosis and “massively” reduce their risk of liver failure.

“This is a big step forward towards reversing the rising death-toll from this disease,” states the release. “People living with hepatitis C have been waiting for this revolution in therapy with huge expectation and now it has arrived we hope NHS England will move quickly to make it available to a rapidly increasing number of patients.”