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NHS England sets up new £190m hep C fund

Will see patients gain access to treatments from Gilead and AbbVie

Hep C 

NHS England is stumping up £190m to pay for new hepatitis C treatments from AbbVie and Gilead that are yet to receive full funding from the country's health service.

The NHS's main commissioning body said that the existing budget for these drugs would be increased to £190m - up from the £40m budget that began last year.

This is the NHS's single largest investment in new treatments this year (except for the £280m Cancer Drugs Fund), but comes after a long delay for this extra funding stream.

The money will go to the roughly 3,500 hepatitis C patients in England and Wales with cirrhosis of the liver, and will gain access by the end of this year to AbbVie's Viekirax, a three-drug combination therapy for the disease, and Exviera (dasabuvir), as well as Gilead's hep C pills Sovaldi and Harvoni.

Sovaldi has been recommended by NICE as a cost-effective treatment for certain hep C patients, but NHS England has delayed funding for the drug until August, given its £35,000 price tag, which the body says is 'prohibitive'.

Harvoni was also recommended by NICE in March this year but is still to receive a final recommendation for funding. Meanwhile, AbbVie's Viekirax is yet to be appraised by the watchdog as it has only recently been approved in Europe. 

In April 2014, NHS England set up a similar fund for Gilead's hep C pills, where it would pay out as much as £19m for late-stage patients before the medicines had been appraised by NICE. 

Recent documents from NHS England seen by PMLiVE however showed that if Sovaldi and Harvoni were paid for at their full price for all patients, this would cost the NHS around £1bn - an upfront payment it simply cannot afford.

This is why there have been smaller silo funds being used to help those most at risk of needing a liver transplant - which can cost upwards of £50,000 - but also delays to funding with Sovaldi, so that the NHS can essentially save enough to pay for these new medicines.

The drugs are certainly costly, but recent phase III data have shown that they can cure between 95 - 99% of all hep C patients, which allows for significant savings in the longer term. 

Richard Jeavons, NHS England's director of specialised services, said: At a time when funding is inevitably constrained across the NHS this is a huge new investment; in fact it'll be the NHS' single largest new treatment expansion this year. That's why we're also running a competitive tendering process in parallel, to seek to bring down the price of these very expensive new drugs.”

Charles Gore, chief executive of the Hepatitis C Trust, said: “Patients with cirrhosis will be delighted to have access to these new drugs. They are so tolerable that almost all of those with cirrhosis will want to take them and so potent that almost of those that do will be cured of their hepatitis C thereby massively reducing their risk of liver failure or liver cancer.

“This is a big step forward towards reversing the rising death-toll from this disease. People living with hepatitis C have been waiting for this revolution in therapy with huge expectation and now it has arrived we hope NHS England will move quickly to make it available to a rapidly increasing number of patients.”

Article by
Ben Adams

12th June 2015

From: Healthcare

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