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New Hepatitis C drug Sovaldi needed in B.C., say desperate patients

02/20/2015 08:00 EST | Updated 04/22/2015 05:59 EDT
Hepatitis C patients in B.C. are fighting to get access to new drug Sovaldi, which could cure them, but could also cost the provincial government up to $2.75 billion.

There are currently up to 25,000 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.

Desmond McKilligan of Kaslo, B.C., who contracted hepatitis C after receiving tainted blood 45 years ago, says going through life with the virus is exhausting.

"I can lose my thoughts half way through a sentence. Tired a lot," said the 65-year-old, whose latest liver biopsy showed level four fibrosis, which he says could lead to cancer of the organ — unless he can take Sovaldi.

Sovaldi was approved for use in this country at the end of 2013 by Health Canada. Its maker, Gilead, claims when used with other anti-viral drugs, it can cure nine out of 10 patients with the disease.

That's great news for people like McKilligan, but only if the B.C. government funds it. Sovaldi is expensive — one pill is $650 — and to treat a single patient would cost up to $110,000.

"It just didn't seem right to me that the people who took responsibility for what happened to me are now refusing to treat me with something that could give me a few more years of my life," he said.

Negotiating the price

There is an online petition circulating, urging Gilead to reduce the pricing of Sovaldi and allow more flexibility in making generic versions.

Meanwhile, the provincial government says it is aware of Sovaldi's success and is considering coverage under its PharmaCare program, given the drug's potential benefits and what is affordable.

In a statement the B.C. Ministry of Health says it "recognizes the potential this drug offers to some patients; however, it needs to make sure that any decisions made balance what is affordable for the taxpayer."

Along with Ontario, B.C. is leading pan-Canadian pricing discussions with the manufacturer of Sovaldi to negotiate the best price possible.

In October 2014, PharmaCare began covering another new hepatitis C drug, Galexos, for certain patients.

Currently PharmaCare also provides coverage for Victrelis (boceprevir) and Incivek (telaprevir), as well as peginterferon/ribavirin, for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C.

B.C.'s Ministry of health says these drugs also yield very good results for patients.

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