LONDON — It’s the holy grail of drug treatment for people with
liver-ravaging hepatitis C, but in Ontario, it’s out of reach for all
but the wealthy.
Two new drugs have revolutionized care for those with hepatitis C.
Sovaldi was so ground-breaking its first-year sales outpaced every other
previous drug, including Viagra. Harvoni became only the seventh drug
ever to be designated by American regulators as a breakthrough therapy.
But though sales of Sovaldi and Harvoni shot through the roof
elsewhere, Ontarians with the disease and without private insurance are
playing a waiting game some won’t survive.
Two new drugs are curing up to 90 per cent of people with the liver disease. But they’re expensive, and so far, Ontario isn’t covering them.
Dr. Morris Sherman, an
expert on viral hepatitis and liver cancer at Toronto General Hospital,
said Canada needs to develop a strategy to ensure access to the drugs.
Hepatitis C is expected to cost the Canadian health system enormously in the next couple of decades,
as those already infected reach the stage of liver cancer, cirrhosis or
need a transplant. But providing the drugs to everyone with hepatitis C
in a short period of time would simply be too expensive for provincial
health purses to manage.
“We’re facing an
unprecedented health-care situation in Canada, where we have a very
large number of people who have hepatitis C and who are at risk for all
of these bad outcomes, and we have curative treatment, which is hugely
expensive,” said Sherman.
“The big challenge is
going to be, how do we manage hepatitis C treatment so that those
patients who need (the drugs) get it soonest, and so that those whose
need is less still have the opportunity to be treated at some point in
“It’s just not right
that somebody who needs treatments or wants treatment for an infectious
disease, who may be stigmatized by having this disease, does not have
access to treatment.”