VICTORIA: British Columbia is providing public drug plan coverage of two new, often curative, hepatitis C drugs effective March 24, 2015, announced Minister of Health Terry Lake today.
People with hepatitis C will be able to apply tomorrow for coverage under B.C.’s PharmaCare program of Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) and Harvoni (ledipasvir and sofosbuvir). These new medications cure about 90% or more of people treated; are easier to take; involve a much shorter course of treatment; and have fewer side effects than older drugs.
“These two new drugs can utterly change the lives of people with hepatitis C for the better,” said B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake. “These drugs represent a significant advance in the treatment of chronic hepatitis C, and more British Columbians affected by this virus now have significantly better odds of becoming free of the disease.”
British Columbia and Ontario jointly led negotiations with the drugs’ manufacturer through the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance (pCPA). The alliance’s process allows participating provinces and territories to leverage their collective buying power and negotiate better prices for new drugs.
“This is another example of the power of our collective action, when we choose to work as one,” said Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Dr. Eric Hoskins. “By working collectively to leverage our joint buying-power, we have been able to expand access for patients in a responsible way that makes our health-care system more sustainable.”
Each participating jurisdiction can choose whether to accept the deal and cover the drugs on their public drug plans. Prices and terms for this negotiation are confidential.
Sovaldi treats hepatitis C genotypes 1, 2, and 3, and was approved for sale by Health Canada in late 2013. Harvoni treats genotype 1, and was approved for sale in late 2014.
Many older hepatitis C treatments often have difficult side effects; one such treatment, peginterferon, is injected under the skin as well. Older drugs also have various cure rates for those able to tolerate the side effects. Both Harvoni and Sovaldi are swallowed as a pill, and have far fewer side effects.
“This is incredibly welcome news for people living with hepatitis C in B.C. and their families,” said Daryl Luster, president of the board of the Pacific Hepatitis C Network. “As a person who treated with interferon and ribavirin, I know how difficult those older therapies are. The hepatitis C community is excitedly anticipating the change these new game-changing medications will bring to thousands of people living with hepatitis C in British Columbia.”
PharmaCare will cover Sovaldi or Harvoni for people who meet certain criteria. For example, people who have never before been treated for hepatitis C or who have failed treatment with older drugs may be eligible for coverage.
The B.C. Ministry of Health expects to cover treatment for about 1,500 people in the first year. PharmaCare will monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the drugs and the outcomes for patients as part of its coverage program.
“These publically funded drugs will bring the hepatitis C cure to infected British Columbians, improve their health, and prevent needless deaths from liver disease,” said Dr. Mel Krajden, medical head, hepatitis for the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and professor at the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of British Columbia. “This begins the path to eliminate hepatitis C in British Columbia.”
In order to fund these drugs and other new therapies, the ministry will continue its overall efforts to lower drug costs for PharmaCare. Some recent examples include: the recent single-sourcing of seven generic drugs; participation in the pan-Canadian price initiative, which has brought ten common generic drugs to 18% of the brand name price; and PharmaCare coverage changes for DPP-4 inhibitor diabetes drugs. These efforts have saved tens of millions of dollars for PharmaCare.
Sovaldi and Harvoni are the second and third new hepatitis C drugs PharmaCare has covered in the past six months. In October, PharmaCare began coverage of Galexos (simeprevir) for certain people after successful negotiations to lower its price.
PharmaCare also covers Victrelis (boceprevir) and peginterferon/ribavirin, for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C.
March is Liver Health Month, which provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the signs and risk factors for liver disease, including hepatitis C.
- Hepatitis C is a serious, communicable disease that is spread through direct contact with the blood of an infected person. Symptoms may include fatigue, jaundice, abdominal pain, and joint pain. In some people, it can cause liver damage (cirrhosis) or liver cancer.
- There are about 80,000 people living with hepatitis C in B.C. However, many people with the virus have no symptoms; about 33% of people living with hepatitis C do not know they have it.
- About a quarter of people with hepatitis C do not need treatment, as their body fights off the infection.
- For those with persistent chronic infections and disease in B.C., about 50,000 in B.C. may eventually require treatment.
- People who are successfully treated and cured of hepatitis C infection are then not able to pass the disease on to others.
- In 2013-14, about 1,200 people in B.C. were treated for chronic hepatitis C with medication.