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Hep C drug mystery

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The Federal Government has not disclosed how much it intends to spend on its goal of virtually eradicating hepatitis C from the country within a generation.

In one of the Government’s most ambitious public health measures, all adults with chronic hepatitis C have been provided subsidised access to hugely expensive frontline drugs that have a high rate of success in eliminating the disease within months.

More than 230,000 are estimated to be currently living with hepatitis C, which kills around 700 a year, but for most the drugs that could cure their ailment – Sofosbuvir, Daclatasvir and Ribavirin – were prohibitively expensive, costing as much as up to $100,000 for a course of treatment.

But hepatitis C have, since 1 March, had subsidised access to the drugs through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme – an arrangement confirmed in the Budget.

Announcing the measure at the time, Health Minister Sussan Ley said it provided “great hope we can not only halt the spread of this deadly infectious virus, but eliminate it altogether in time”.

The Minister has explicitly linked the decision with the highly controversial move to axe bulk billing incentives for pathology services and cut them for diagnostic imaging – a measure expected to save $650 million over four years.

But in the Budget the Health Department said the cost of the measure was “not for publication”.

By contrast, it has announced that $57.6 million has been set aside to fund new and amended listings of drugs on the PBS and the Life Saving Drugs Program.

The Department said the PBS would cost $10.1 billion overall in 2016-17.

In addition, the Government has revealed it will spend $20.4 million to improve speed and efficiency of the system to regulate therapeutic goods, with the aim of bringing new drugs to market more quickly – in some cases up to two years sooner.

Under the plan, the number of committees advising the TGA will be cut from 11 to seven, costs and administrative burden for industry will be reduced, and the time taken to assess products will be reduced by up to three months by drawing on the work of comparable regulators overseas, such as the US Food and Drug Administration.

In addition, commercial organisations approved by the TGA will be allowed to undertake assessments of medical devices, and there will be new approval pathways for sponsors to add medicines and devices.

Adrian Rollins