Tasmanian Physicians Find Less Expensive Route to Obtaining Hepatitis C Medications

December 17, 2015
Bill Schu

Physicians and patients in Tasmania are finding creative ways to get around the high cost of drugs to treat the hepatitis C virus. The group is importing the medications in powdered form or as tablets, from countries like India, Bangladesh and China, where patents for the drug does not exist.

Physicians and patients in Tasmania are finding creative ways to get around the high cost of drugs to treat the H\hepatitis C virus (HCV). The group is importing the medications in powdered form or as tablets, from countries like India, Bangladesh and China, where patents for the drug does not exist.

The approach is similar to that chronicled in the 2013 film Dallas Buyer’s Club, which was a semi-biographical account of an AIDS patient who in 1985 used a similar practice to obtain access to HIV medications on behalf of patients who couldn’t otherwise afford them.

The strategy is allowing the Tasmanian group to offer the drug for around $1,400 compared to $84,000 per patient or more for a full course of the medication at retail prices. Physicians and patients in the Tasmanian Buyer’s Club have also set up a unique “crowdfunding” campaign to further help HCV patients who cannot afford the medications even at the significantly reduced cost.

The approach is likely to be mirrored in other countries. It has been well-documented, particularly recently, that the cost of the incredibly effective HCV medications bears little resemblance to the actual cost of manufacturing the drugs.

The group behind the importation maintains that the strategy is compliant with legislation in Australia, of which Tasmania is a part. Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration regulates the amount and type of substance that can be imported for individual use. The TGA has cautioned that while the practice is within its guidelines, which allow patients to import 12 weeks of medication for individual use, doctors and patients should proceed carefully.

“The TGA continually advises consumers to exercise extreme caution when purchasing medicines from overseas, including internet sites, particularly if the supplier does not require a prescription which would be a requirement in Australia for that product,” a spokesman for the TGA told ABC News. “Products purchased from overseas or over the internet may contain undisclosed and potentially harmful ingredients, and may not meet the same standards of quality, safety and efficacy as those approved by the TGA for supply in Australia.”