SOURCE: Canadian Liver Foundation

Canadian Liver Foundation

March 24, 2015 09:30 ET

Canadian Liver Foundation Applauds Provinces on Providing Access to Interferon-Free Therapy for Hepatitis C Patients

Collaborative Negotiations Successful in Removing Financial Barrier to Care for Many Patients but Testing Required to Identify Those Still Undiagnosed

TORONTO, ON--(Marketwired - March 24, 2015) - For thousands of Canadians with hepatitis C, the news that the majority of the provinces and territories have worked together to negotiate an agreement to provide access to one of the newest interferon-free drug therapies comes as a welcome relief. The Canadian Liver Foundation applauds this positive move that recognizes the urgent need to treat individuals who have been living with hepatitis C for years, even decades, and are now suffering from advanced liver disease.

"Hepatitis C treatment has evolved dramatically and we have finally reached a point where we have drug therapies that are easy to take, have few, if any, side effects and are highly effective ," says Dr. Morris Sherman, Chairman of the Canadian Liver Foundation. "Unfortunately, the cost put them out of reach of the very patients who needed them the most. Thanks to this collaborative effort, the financial barrier has been removed for many patients in regions across the country."

British Columbia, Ontario, New Brunswick, Yukon and Manitoba have announced that the drug will be added to their formularies with several provinces planning to make similar listing decisions in the coming days and weeks.

Hepatitis C is responsible for almost half of all liver transplants and is a major contributor to the steady rise of liver cancer in Canada. The Canadian Liver Foundation's 2013 report -- Liver Disease in Canada: A Crisis in the Making -- revealed that liver-related deaths had risen by almost 30 per cent in a period of only eight years, due in part to hepatitis C.

While the accessibility of treatment is a critical part of eliminating hepatitis C, it is equally important to identify the thousands of Canadians who are still unaware that they are living with this disease.

"Hepatitis C is common in Canada and up to 70% may still be undiagnosed. No one ever thinks that they could have hepatitis C and more often than not, neither do their doctors," says Dr. Sherman. "Currently Canada uses risk-based testing which hasn't been effective in identifying all infected adults. In fact, as few as 30% have been diagnosed but middle-aged adults account for about 75% of all infected individuals in Canada. These people are at greatest risk of dying from the complications of this disease because the complications become more frequent with age. We need to introduce widespread screening not just based on risk factors but by age. The earlier patients are identified, the better the chances are that they can be effectively treated."

In August 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued a recommendation that all adults born between 1945 and 1965 should have a one-time hepatitis C test. Based on the prevalence data in Canada and taking into account immigration from countries where hepatitis C is common, the Canadian Liver Foundation believed the age bracket should be expanded and issued its own recommendations in 2012 that all adults born between 1945 and 1975 should be screened. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) did its own feasibility studies, convened a working group of experts and created draft age-based recommendations. Revised screening recommendations have not yet been issued publicly. 

Studies have shown that age-based hepatitis C testing not only could identify up to 70% of those infected1 but also would be cost-effective2 whereas continuing to rely on risk-based screening will lead to a dramatic rise in liver cancer (205%) and liver-related deaths (160%) by 20353.

"We can now talk to patients about 'when' they are cured, versus 'if'," says Dr. Sherman. "If we do not seek out and inform patients that they have this disease however, we may be sentencing them to unnecessary suffering and death. This week's news is an exciting step forward in our efforts to eliminate hepatitis C and it is our hope that it will be a catalyst for PHAC and the provincial governments to take the follow-up step and implement age-based testing."

About the Canadian Liver Foundation
Founded in 1969, the Canadian Liver Foundation (CLF) was the first organization in the world devoted to providing support for research and education into the causes, diagnoses, prevention and treatment of all liver disease. Today we are the largest charitable funder of liver-related research and we are committed to bringing liver research to life by promoting liver health, improving public awareness and understanding of liver disease and providing support to individuals affected by liver disease. To learn more or to make a donation, visit www.liver.ca

References:
1A Canadian screening program for hepatitis C: Is now the time? CMAJ October 15, 2013 vol. 185 no. 15

2Cost-effectiveness of screening for hepatitis C in Canada CMAJ January 12, 2015

3Burden of disease and cost of chronic hepatitis C infection in Canada. Can J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2014 May;28(5):243-50.

Contact Information