A new drug called HOLKIRA PAK will be used to treat Islanders with hepatitis C.
A $5-million hepatitis C management strategy unique to P.E.I. was announced by the province's Health and Wellness minister Thursday morning.
Health Canada recently approved new treatments that can cure the HCV Hepatitis C genotype 1, which is carried by 70 to 75 per cent of Islanders with the contagious liver disease, the most difficult genotype to treat.
The new treatments have a cure rate of 95 to 100 per cent, few or no side effects, and a much shorter treatment cycle.
"With a cure rate of over 95 per cent, these are life-saving and life-changing drugs that most of us will see come along only once in a lifetime," said Doug Currie.
"They were just approved by Health Canada in December and I'm pleased to announce that P.E.I. will be the first province in Canada to make them available,"
The current medication, called interferon, has a cure rate of up to 70 per cent but they have serious side effects during the year-long therapy.
The treatment with HOLKIRA PAK takes 12 weeks with a daily pill and fewer side effects.
The new drug is expensive and the government said the exact price hasn't been finalized yet.
Dr Jeremy Beck, a gastroenterologist, will be one of the main prescribers of the new drug.
"I'm very excited, my patients are very excited, and this is a big time for hepatitis C treatment. I'm really glad P.E.I. is leading the way," said Beck.
About 400 Islanders are known to have been infected with the hepatitis C virus and at least 60 are in the advanced stages of the disease
$1.6M invested in each of next 3 years
Currie said the province's small size offers advantages in implementing this type of strategy.
"As a small province, we can closely monitor and assess HCV cases and mobilize and coordinate our provincial health care resources."
The province will work with the Quebec-based pharmaceutical company AbbVie to offer services including referral of patients, assessments, treatment support, education and followup.
Patients will be screened from emergency rooms, addiction services, primary care centres, methadone clinics and corrections facilities.
"This strategy will provide the best treatment available to many Islanders with hepatitis C and prevent further spread and serious complications among those with the disease," said P.E.I. physician and former chief public health officer Dr. Lamont Sweet.
The province will invest $1.6 million in the program in each of the next three years.
Hepatitis C is spread through contact with infected blood.
Dr. David Ashby contracted Hepatitis C while working in the operating room and presumed it was from a needle stick.
He took the interferon treatment, 48 weeks of an injection, and it made him feel ill for a year.
"I'm wishing that this new drug had been available seven years ago. It would have saved me considerable grief I would think."
Dr. Morris Sherman, chairman of the Canadian Liver Foundation, said the province has "stepped up as a role model" and he hopes that "other provinces will soon follow their lead."
Beck said he see about 20 patients a year with hepatitis C.
He said he and other doctors may see more patients now that the drug is available and this new strategy is put in place.
"It's not just a drug. There's a whole program that's going to be involved with this," said Beck.
Dan Doran, a representative with the P.E.I. chapter of the Canadian Hemophilia Society, attended the announcement.
"For people with bleeding disorders who contracted hepatitis C through the blood system, it's great news," said Doran.
"Great news for everyone, no matter how you contracted it. That's going to certainly going to be welcome new to a lot of people, everyone on P.E.I. who has contracted hepatitis C."