Hep-C patients push P.E.I. government to approve drugs

Doug Gallant
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Screen capture of Sovaldi, a drug to treat hepatitis C

makers of Sovaldi say the cost of a 12-week course of treatment with that drug would be approximately $55,000

More than 200 people have written letters or signed petitions calling on the province to immediately add two new drugs to treat hepatitis C to the P.E.I. Pharmacare Formulary.

Kathleen Critch, one of those involved  in efforts to bring these drugs to P.E.I., says those efforts are ongoing and others are expected to add their voice to the call for provincial authorities to act.

Critch, whose mother has hepatitis C, says Islanders deserve access to these drugs.

"I hope that you will do everything in your power to make them available to the Islanders who need them," she stated in a letter to the provincial government.

The drugs in question, Sovaldi and Galexos, are currently being reviewed by the province of Nova Scotia.

Sovaldi was approved by Health Canada in December, while Galexos was approved by the same agency last November.

Both have been approved in the U.S. by the FDA.

A petition addressed to Premier Robert Ghiz and Health and Wellness Minister Doug Currie asks for those treatments to be added to the provincial catastrophic drug plan because of the costs involved.

In a letter to  deputy minister for Health and Wellness, Dr. Michael Mayne, Critch  says providing access to these drugs would benefit  not just those Islanders suffering from hepatitis C but also  the government that is paying for their health care.

Referencing figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada, supporters say more than 1,000 Islanders currently have hepatitis C and could benefit from the use of these drugs.

The makers of Sovaldi say the cost of a 12-week course of treatment with that drug would be approximately $55,000.

While that may seem expensive, petitioners say it's far less than the cost of a liver transplant many people with the disease may require.

Critch noted that in the United States, for example, the average billing for a liver transplant was $577,100.

That number includes the costs for the 30 days pre-transplant care, procurement of the liver, hospital transplant admission, the cost of the physicians during the transplant, the 180 days post-transplant admission and the cost of the OP immunosuppressants and other prescriptions.

Critch said the cost of treatment with Sovaldi is just 16 per cent of the cost of a transplant.

"You could buy at least six drug treatments in the United States for the cost of one transplant."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Wellness says the department is aware of these two drugs.

"The coverage of new drugs by P.E.I. Pharmacare programs is based upon the clinical recommendations of a national advisory committee after a drug has been approved by Health Canada," the spokeswoman said.

"The department will be watching with interest the outcome of these reviews, as well as the work of the Pan-Canadian Pricing Alliance. That committee determines the safety and value to citizens of these drugs - these two particular drugs are very expensive."

The spokeswoman said the department looks forward to opportunities that may improve the lives of Islanders living with hepatitis C while recognizing the importance of clinical expert advice and contributing factors such as resources.

She noted the department recently added the drugs Boceprevir (Victrelis) and Telaprevir (Incivek) to the provincial formulary.


Organizations: Islanders, Health Canada, FDA Public Health Agency of Canada Department of Health and Wellness Canadian Pricing Alliance

Geographic location: United States, Nova Scotia, Toronto

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Recent comments

  • hep c positive
    June 01, 2014 - 08:04

    I too am an islander with Hep C. I have had it for five years now and have never had any symptoms. I knew I had the risk factors so I got tested and was found positive. Since I have no symptoms I would never have knownI had it had I not taken initiative to get tested. Its scary though because I know that this disease is eventually going to kill me. Its like ticking bomb in my liver. Please approve these drugs.

    • Kathleen Critch
      June 03, 2014 - 20:23

      Dear Hep- C positive, I hope that you and any of your family and friends that are able will write your own letters to our provincial government. They need to know that this is not going away. This can no longer be something that we just don’t talk about. Below is the contact information I used for my own letters. Honourable Premier Robert Ghiz, Premier of Prince Edward Island - preimer@gov.pe.ca Honourable Minister Doug Currie, Minister of Health and Wellness - dwcurrie@gov.pe.ca How to find your district - http://www.electionspei.ca/provincial/districts/find/index.php List of PEI MLAs - http://assembly.pe.ca/index.php3?number=1024555&lang=E

    • Pat
      June 03, 2014 - 20:29

      This disease will not kill you if we get these drugs approved. The are almost 100% effective of getting rid of the virus. Get a referral to Halifax. They have so many more resources than we have here!

  • chris
    May 31, 2014 - 20:49

    my life would be a lot easier. And may be able to return to the work force before to much damage is done. Ontario

    • Kathleen Critch
      June 03, 2014 - 20:21

      Dear Chris, Neither of these medications is currently listed on the Ontario Exceptional Access Program (EAP) or the E-Formulary under the Ontario Drug Benefit Formulary. A woman in Ontario has already started to make some noise with a petition she started to request that the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technology in Health (CADTH) prioritize its review of these two drugs. This review makes recommendations to public and private health plans. I would encourage you and your family and friends to start writing letters in the province of Ontario, if you haven’t already done so.

  • Tom Paine
    May 31, 2014 - 16:26

    whatever the government decides, it will be "arbitrary"

    • Kathleen Critch
      June 03, 2014 - 20:19

      Dear Tom Paine, I assume from the quotations that you mean arbitrary in the sense of uncontrolled, unrestricted or unreasonable. I sincerely hope that this is not the case.

  • AJ
    May 31, 2014 - 13:37

    @ (TheBigPrice) - What you have said is - Don't cure a disease because it will spread the disease. - There is absolute zero logic in your statement. @(Ex Islander) - sounds familiar. PEI leaders are told what to do about the important issues, so find out who's telling them what to do and bring them to the forefront so we can see and speak to the real decision makers.

    • Kathleen Critch
      June 03, 2014 - 20:18

      Dear AJ, I have written letters to many different government officials during this process and so far a letter from Honourable Valerie Docherty Minister of Community Services and Seniors and Minister Responsible for the Status of Women has been the only response I have received. If you know of anyone outside of the Premier, the Minister and Deputy Minister of Health and Wellness, the Chief Health Officer, the Minister and Deputy Minister of Health, my MP and all 25 remaining PEI MLAs please let me know and I will gladly send more.

  • Pat Baker
    May 31, 2014 - 13:30

    The one thing that I hope will happen is awareness. People need to be tested! The 2 new drugs cause very few side effects while the treatment the Gov. has approved is really hard on a person and most older patients can not take it! Thanks to the Guardian for providing this information!

    • Kathleen Critch
      June 03, 2014 - 20:15

      Dear Pat Baker, I couldn’t agree more. Knowing someone who has done both chemotherapy and interferon and ribavirin treatments, for Hepatitis C, I can tell you that the interferon and ribavirin treatment was worse for the patient than the chemotherapy. Below is a link to the Canadian Liver Foundation who have a great page on Hepatitis C including but not limited to “Who should get tested for Hepatitis C?” and “Who is most at risk of contracting Hepatitis C?” According to Health Canada’s Hepatitis C Website of the estimated cases of Hepatitis C in Canada “Approximately 21% of those individuals don't know they are infected and remain undiagnosed.” Canadian Liver Foundation, Hepatitis C - http://www.liver.ca/liver-disease/types/viral_hepatitis/Hepatitis_C.aspx#2 Hepatitis C – Public Health Agency of Canada - http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hepc/index-eng.php

  • Scot
    May 31, 2014 - 12:31

    I had one tattoo in my life and I contracted hep-c from it. Please approve these drugs so I can live.

    • Kathleen Critch
      June 03, 2014 - 20:12

      Dear Scot, I encourage you, if you haven’t already, to contact your MLA, the Premier of PEI and the Minister of Health and Wellness to voice your opinion. Let them know your story and that you require these medications. Ask family and friends to contact the government to request the medications be added to the formulary. Let anyone you think may also be at risk to get tested so that they can start getting the proper care they need. I have provided below the email addresses of the office of the Premier and the Minister of Health and Wellness as well as the websites to locate in which district you reside and the MLA for your district. Honourable Premier Robert Ghiz, Premier of Prince Edward Island - preimer@gov.pe.ca Honourable Minister Doug Currie, Minister of Health and Wellness - dwcurrie@gov.pe.ca How to find your district - http://www.electionspei.ca/provincial/districts/find/index.php List of PEI MLAs - http://assembly.pe.ca/index.php3?number=1024555&lang=E

  • TheBigPrice
    May 31, 2014 - 10:01

    When I met with Michael Mayne and Doug Currie last June about the addiction issue, he said "the real cost to PEI is going to be increased hepatitis c cases" and yet, what progress has been made? I personally know 4 addicted youth that have developed hep c since that meeting... they couldn't get methadone or any help but when they got hep c, zoom.... right to the top of the methadone list... when it was too late. Approve these drugs, PEI Gov, you played a huge part in allowing this disease to spread.

    • Kathleen Critch
      June 03, 2014 - 20:09

      Dear TheBigPrice, The number of new cases of Hepatitis C in PEI is astounding. According to the article published in the Guardian in June of last year the “Rates of new cases of Hepatitis C have doubled over the last decade, with an average of 50 new cases a year now being diagnosed in the province.” If 85% of the people infected with Hepatitis C develop chronic, long-term liver infections, that means approximately 42 people a year in PEI will need long term health care including expensive and lengthy hospitalizations. Regardless of the method of infection, I believe all Islanders deserve access to a cure that is over 90% effective.

  • Ex Islander
    May 31, 2014 - 08:50

    I'm going to play "devil's advocate" here with a dose of reality. Sorry but you'll be dead before PEI approval for these drugs happens. Most certainly they won't cover the costs. Having gone through this battle ourselves, with another (not rare illness) we were forced to leave PEI permanently to save the patient's life,who would have surely died had they stayed. PEI health's mandate isn't to cure disease but to get you off island if your illness is expensive. The truth of that statement is peppered throughout stories and comments in this very newspaper. Save ypurselves the 10 year pain and heartache we endured and just leave. Life's too short to to cling to some nostalgic sentiment about home while you or a loved one is suffering and waiting for this provonce to care about anything more than $$$$$.

    • Kathleen Critch
      June 03, 2014 - 20:06

      Dear Ex Islander, I am sorry that health issues caused you and your loved ones to leave Prince Edward Island. I understand how difficult it is to have to try to make the decision, nostalgic or practical, to leave your home province. We are not in a position at this time for health and financial reasons to be able to move out of province. While I understand the point you are making and understand that you truly feel this way (as shown by the quotations around devil’s advocate), I do not see how this request is in any way a poor idea. Even if it takes too long for these medications to be approved to save my mother, which I obviously hope it doesn’t, these medications will save over 90% of the people who are fortunate enough to receive them. Even if the government only cares about money, which is not my opinion, the costs of long term care and liver transplants far outweighs the cost of these medications. This isn’t only a selfish endeavor to help my mother but also to help all Islanders who have Hepatitis C.