Geoff McCaughan, head of the Centenary Institute’s liver immunobiology program, has publicly welcomed the approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration of two new drugs to treat hepatitis C. Quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), Geoff said the new drugs, boceprevir and telaprevir—which belong to a new class of medicines known as direct-acting anti-virals—are harbingers of “a whole swag of new drugs which are in the pipeline”.
The two drugs have proven very effective in the US. They cure chronic hepatitis C, genotype 1—the most intractable type—in about 80 per cent people, and reduce treatment time by about half, to less than a year. “It is a major breakthrough, ” Geoff says.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne viral disease transmitted mainly by injection with infected needles. At present hep C is overwhelmingly associated with intravenous drug use, but in the past poor blood transfusion infection control has also been to blame. Although typically slow to become active, the virus can eventually lead to serious liver disease such as cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure. Of about 220,000 Australians thought to be infected by hepatitis C, nearly a quarter are already suffering moderate to severe liver disease. About 11,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.
Both new drugs are awaiting listing on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. But even if they cost $82,000 for a course of treatment—the maximum figure published in the SMH— that’s a lot less than the estimated $130,000 plus $15,000 a year in therapy for a liver transplant.