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Hep C cure’s $1bn price tag

Hep C cure's $1bn price tag - Featured Image

The Federal Government has spent almost $1 billion on drugs in the first four months of its campaign to eliminate hepatitis C, reinforcing estimates that it will ultimately cost taxpayers $3 billion to cure chronic sufferers.

Figures compiled by Australian Prescriber show that since the hepatitis C treatments sofosbuvir and ledipasvir were listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule in March, the Government has paid out $942.8 million on 43,900 prescriptions for the drugs, at an average cost of almost $21,500 per script.

Sofosbuvir has been hailed as a “game-changing” medicine that can cure hepatitis C in as little as 12 weeks, but the cost for most individuals is prohibitive – $110,000 for a course of treatment.

But following its listing on the PBS, chronic hepatitis C sufferers can get for as little as $6.20 a prescription.

Health Minister Sussan Ley has linked the subsidisation of the hepatitis C treatments to $650 million in savings from the controversial axing of bulk billing incentives for pathology and diagnostic imaging services.

“These two new hepatitis C medicines have come on to the market and rocketed into the number one position on the list of top drugs by cost to the Government,” Australian Prescriber medical editor Dr John Dowden said. “They were only approved in March, and in the four months to June have cost the Government almost $1 billion for 43,000 prescriptions.”

Related: Challenges of new hep C treatment

While the hepatitis C treatments grabbed the crown as the most costly drugs for 2015-16, the most common medicines prescribed were statins and proton pump inhibitors.

Altogether, more than 14 million prescriptions where issued for the statins atorvastatin and rosuvastatin last financial year, while almost 6.9 million were written for the proton pump inhibitor esomeprazole.

The next most commonly prescribed drug was the painkiller paracetamol (5.05 million prescriptions), followed by the reflux medication pantoprazole (4.7 million), the blood pressure drug perindopril (4.05 million) and the diabetes medicine metformin (3.57 million).

While hepatitis C treatments have grabbed a big slice of the Commonwealth’s medicine’s budget, other expensive treatments for leukaemia, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and eye disease are also grabbing a hefty share.

The anti-inflammatory biologic adalimunab, a drug used to treat rheumatic and psoriatic arthritis, Crohn’s disease and chronic psoriasis, has been supplanted at the top of the expenditure table by ledipasvir and sofosbuvir, but still cost the taxpayer almost $334 million last financial year.

Top 10 drugs by cost

Medicine

Cost (A$)

Sofosbuvir and ledipasvir

570 730 056

Sofosbuvir

372 094 623

Adalimunab

335 857 859

Ranibizumab

241 256 012

Aflibercept

231 194 036

Esomeprazole

170 554 177

Etanercept

166 538 773

Trastuzumab

157 134 211

Fluticasone & Salmeterol

148 878 399

Insulin Glargine

146 202 125

Source: Australian Prescriber

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