New hep C treatment on PBS welcome – but still more to do

April 30, 2016

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) listing of Viekira
Pak and Viekira Pak-RBV from 1 May is a very welcome addition to the highly
effective new generation treatment options for people living with hepatitis C.

Viekira Pak is a new multi-drug treatment regimen for
hepatitis C genotype 1, which combines paritaprevir-ritonavir, ombitasvir and
dasabuvir, used with, or without, ribavirin.

It was made available on the PBS from 1 May 2016 along with
the existing direct-acting antiviral medicines that were listed from March this
year. Australian clinical data recently released demonstrates an overall cure
rate of greater than 90% and 100% in those without cirrhosis.

We know that several thousand people have commenced
treatment since 1 March. Hepatitis Australia understands that the number of
people receiving treatment in March 2016 has matched, or exceeded the number of
people receiving treatment during the whole of 2014.

This good news is tempered by the fact that a small percentage of people
living with less common hepatitis C genotypes are still desperately waiting for
new treatments to become available without the terrible side-effects of the
older medicine.

“I find it really heartbreaking that genotypes 4 to 6 –
which make up only a very small percentage of the hep C population in Australia
still can’t have access to interferon free treatment. We were waiting with hope
― like everyone else ― only to be left behind again.” Facebook follower 30/3/16

There are six main genotypes (strains) of the hepatitis C
virus. In Australia, the most prevalent (90%) genotypes are 1 and 3. The
currently approved treatments in Australia provide a number of interferon-free
options for genotypes 1, 2 and 3. Under current guidelines, people with
genotypes 4, 5 and 6 still have to experience the debilitating side- effects associated with pegylated interferon.

Trials of treatment regimens that are effective across all
hepatitis C genotypes (pangenotypic medicines) are continuing, but it is
currently unclear how long Australians will need to wait for these to become
available on the PBS. Once approved, the introduction and PBS listing of
pan-genotypic medicines will be the next major step in treating and eliminating hepatitis C in Australia.

In the meantime, people with the less common genotypes ― 4,
5, or 6, can speak to their hepatitis specialist about clinical trials or early
access programs being conducted by the pharmaceutical companies.


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