A "life changing" new drug designed to treat the hepatitis C
virus can almost treble the cure rate for patients.
Chronic hepatitis C (HCV) is a serious viral infection of the
liver which affects around 50,000 New Zealanders.
Pharmac will begin funding boceprevir (Victrelis) from
September 1 for certain patients as a triple therapy along
with other drugs.
Many patients did not respond well to current treatments but
could be helped with boceprevir, said Medical director Dr
"Clinical evidence shows that, given the genetic
characteristics of a patient, a simple genetic test can
fairly accurately predict how they might respond to
treatment," he said.
About 25 to 35 per cent of patients respond to the currently
available treatment. With use of boceprevir, the response
rate increases to 70 to 75 per cent.
Victrelis is the first new hepatitis C treatment made
available to New Zealanders in the last decade.
Hepatitis C genotype 1 is the most common form of the
condition, and affects about 50 per cent of all known
If left untreated, hepatitis C can cause serious liver
disease including cirrhosis, liver cancer and even death.
Professor Ed Gane, chief hepatologist and deputy director of
the New Zealand Liver Transplant Unit at Auckland City
Hospital said Victrelis was a protease inhibitor and worked
directly on the hepatitis C virus to stop it replicating.
"It is used in combination with other drugs - peginterferon
alfa and ribavirin - which prevent the virus from becoming
resistant to Victrelis."
The drug could almost double cure rates for patients who had
never been treated before, and for patients who had failed
previous therapies it could treble the cure rate, Professor
"This can be life changing, especially for patients who have
been the hardest to treat."
Patients will be genetically tested to determine whether they
qualify for the new medicine. About 300 patients are expected
to start the triple therapy within the next year.
Pharmac has also negotiated a price reduction for the Pegasys
[EDS: CORRECT] brand of the current treatment, pegylated
interferon with ribavirin.
Together, total funding of these hepatitis C treatments will
cost $17.8 million over five years, with some of this cost
being refunded through confidential rebates.
Dr Moodie said though many people live with hepatitis C
without ever knowing it, the infection can cause significant
health issues including liver cancer and liver failure, which
may require a liver transplant.