Montreal

New hepatitis C drug approved for Quebec's sickest patients

An expensive treatment for hepatitis C will soon be covered by the province’s health-care public health care plan — but only the sickest Quebecers will have access to it for now.

Harvoni and Holkira Pak, which cost up to $60K, approved by RAMQ for public-plan coverage

This image provided by Gilead Sciences shows a bottle of the hepatitis drug Harvoni. Harvoni, the newest pill from California-based Gilead Sciences, is considered to be a highly effective treatment for hepatitis C. (The Associated Press)

An expensive treatment for hepatitis C will soon be covered by the province's health-care public health care plan — but only the sickest Quebecers will have access to it for now.

According to the public health care bureau (RAMQ), some Quebecers with the illness will have to wait up to three years before having access to new treatments and medication.

The specific medications, Harvoni and Holkira Pak, are meant to treat patients carrying genotype 1 of the hepatitis C virus — the most common type of hepatitis C.

The drugs have the potential to cure the illness that attacks the liver within eight to 12 weeks.

However, it also costs upwards of $60,000 per person.

The Quebec government said it would likely have to pay out $1 billion in the first year If the public health-care plan covered the cost of the drug for all Quebecers with hepatitis C.

That's why only the sickest people will be treated first.

"In Quebec, we have 39,000 patients under treatment, but we think that there could be between 70,000 and 90,000 with the disease. So it's true that treating them would be an enormous cost to society, but it's also a real catastrophe for the people who will have to wait after their doctors promised them a shorter, easier and more effective treatment," said Laurence Mersilian, the director of a centre offering help to people with hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne disease most commonly transmitted through the sharing of needles, the transmission of infected blood and from mother to child.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of the CP story stated that Hepatitis C is most commonly transmitted through sexual intercourse. In fact, sexual transmission is a rare occurrence, but can happen in the presence of blood.
    Jul 27, 2015 4:47 PM ET

Translated from La Presse Canadienne

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