British Columbia

Hepatitis C: breakthrough drug coverage a lifesaver for B.C. man

A B.C. government decision to pay for two new hepatitis C drugs is being called a lifesaver by one man with the disease.

New drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni will cure 90 per cent of cases, says B.C. Health Ministry

Desmond McKilligan of Kaslo, B.C. says new drug coverage for his hepatitis C is a lifesaver. (Bob Keating)

A B.C. government decision to pay for two new hepatitis C drugs is being called a lifesaver by one man with the disease.

The Ministry of Health approved coverage for Sovaldi and Harvoni last week. The breakthrough drugs can cure about 90 per cent of cases, but cost between $55,000 and $110,000 per patient, meaning most patients couldn't afford them.

Patients had been calling for the government to cover the drugs, and the B.C. government had said it was negotiating with the drug companies on the price of the treatments.

On Thursday the province confirmed it had negotiated a lower price for the treatments, but would not reveal the amount, citing confidentiality.

The Ministry of Health says the new medications are easier to take, involve a much shorter course of treatment, and have fewer side effects than older drugs.

Kaslo resident Desmond McKilligan contracted hepatitis C more than 40 years ago from a tainted blood transfusion, and just got a call saying he qualifies for Sovaldi.

"My liver doesn't have anywhere to go but cirrhosis," he told CBC News. "It was a great thing to be called about that."

McKilligan says it's a new lease on life, and is thrilled he may actually see his grandchildren in Montreal.

"I only saw pictures on Facebook of my grandson. I'm really excited to be able to go out there at some point."

Last month Health Minister Terry Lake announced about 1,500 people like McKilligan will be offered the new drugs in the first year alone.

Patients must be recommended for the treatment by their doctor and there is no cap on the number of patients that can be treated, the ministry confirmed.

"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," said Lake.

There are currently up to 60,000 British Columbians living with the contagious liver disease, which begins as a mild viral infection lasting a few weeks but can lead to a chronic, lifelong illness.

The Ministry of Health says 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.

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, said a statement released by the ministry.

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