NHS England approves early funding for Sovaldi

NHS England is to spend £18.7 million to make new Hepatitis C treatment Sovaldi available to patients with the most advanced disease.

Around 500 patients who have acute liver failure, and/or awaiting liver transplantation, are set to benefit from the decision to fund Gilead’s Sovaldi (sofosbuvir).

The hepatitis C virus causes inflammation of the liver, affecting its ability to function. Whilst many sufferers naturally clear their infections within six months, others develop chronic hepatitis which is usually life-long without therapy.

Experts say around 30% of people infected with chronic hepatitis C will develop cirrhosis of the liver which, in some cases, may prove fatal without a liver transplant.

The recommendation of NHS England’s Clinical Priorities Advisory Group (CPAG) means that whilst not yet NICE-approved, Sovaldi will be funded for patients who at significant risk of mortality or who require transplantation.

The decision on Sovaldi follows efforts by charity the Hepatitis C Trust to have early access to the drug in these patients.  The charity’s chief executive Charles Gore told pharmaphorum in an exclusive interview last week that NHS England’s delays were potentially putting lives of these acutely ill patients at risk.

James Palmer, Clinical Director, Specialised Services at NHS England said: “This is a major step forward for patients with this debilitating, and often life-threatening, disease and is evidence of NHS England’s commitment to widen access to cutting edge drugs, treatments and therapies where both clinically appropriate and cost effective.

“The majority of these patients will already be under the care of a specialist treatment centre, and we will ensure that clinicians are aware of this policy, so that all eligible patients have the opportunity to access this drug”.

Professor Graham Foster, Professor of Hepatology and co-Chair of the Hepatitis C Clinical Reference Group sub-group welcomed the news. He said: “The recently licensed, new, direct-acting antiviral drugs for hepatitis C may be life-saving for infected patients with advanced cirrhosis. I am delighted that NHS England will make these drugs available for these patients and allow us to treat those in urgent need.

He added: “The availability of these drugs will ensure that NHS patients are among the first in Europe to benefit from these revolutionary new drugs”.

NICE is currently appraising Sovaldi, and is expected to give its initial judgement in May.  NHS England says its policy position will be reviewed once NICE has published this guidance.


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