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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13310


Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (13:23): I thank the member for Brisbane for presenting this important motion following World Hepatitis Day earlier this year. Chronic hepatitis B is a leading cause of death around the world. In Australia, we have a disproportionate level of chronic hepatitis B infection in Indigenous and migrant populations. Without a change to our approach to treatment, it is predicted that incidents of liver cancer—which is often terminal—will increase exponentially over the coming years, placing huge burdens on patients, families and our national health budget. Hepatitis C is a large and growing health problem, with more than 220,000 people in Australia living with this disease and thousands of new infections identified each year. Hepatitis C has overtaken HIV related deaths in Australia.

Unfortunately, hepatitis C is not often identified, with only two per cent of the population living with hepatitis C treated each year. Untreated hepatitis C can lead to progressive liver damage, liver cancer and death. Hepatitis C is the leading reason for liver transplants in Australia. These figures show us that the time is now to embrace a more holistic approach to hepatitis C prevention, treatment and management. According to the Boston Consulting Group, for every dollar spent to treat chronic hepatitis C infection, four more dollars are spent on the consequences of failing to prevent and treat the disease.

As the member for Bennelong, with the majority of the nation's pharmaceutical companies based in my electorate, and also as the chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Medicines, I am well aware of the amazing amount of work and investment that goes into the progressive improvement of drug treatments, prevention and care for chronic diseases like hepatitis C. Investment by the government into these treatments will be an investment into our nation's health and into our nation's long-term health budget. Recent medical breakthroughs now present us with an opportunity to make a difference to those suffering from this disease and to further reduce the transmission of the disease in our society. Last year two Bennelong-based companies presented new treatments to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee to obtain approval for listings on the highly specialised drugs program and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.Merck Sharp and Dohme submitted Victrelis and Janssen-Cilag submitted Incivo. Both of these received approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration earlier this year, and PBAC approval in July.

This medicines represent significant clinical advantage in the treatment of hepatitis C, predicting an increase in cure rates from 30 to 40 per cent, using the current standard of care, up to 80 per cent with the new medicines. I understand there are budgetary constraints as this government chops every project it can in a mad scramble to achieve its promised budget surplus. It is therefore very heartening to observe a company like MSD enter a risk-sharing agreement with the Department of Health and Ageing, which will see the total cost of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme capped at $50 million per year for all new hepatitis C medications, with a 100 per cent rebate of any cost to the PBS over $50 million. This means that any cost in making this medicine available to the community of over $50 million will be covered by the pharmaceutical company. This results in an absolute cost to the PBS of $200 million over four years to facilitate great steps in the treatment and prevention of this chronic disease for just over $4 per week for each hepatitis C sufferer.

Several days ago the department signed an agreement with MSD on those terms, meaning that cabinet approval is the only obstacle left that is stopping this marginalised community group from accessing this innovative new medicine. Hepatitis C sufferers in over 25 countries already receive publicly subsidised access to this medication, including the European Union, the United States, Ireland, Canada and Spain. I urge the minister to fast-track this listing for cabinet approval and to bring Australia into the modern era of hepatitis C treatment and prevention. I thank again the member for Brisbane for introducing this motion and allowing this parliament to recognise the 220,000 Australians silently suffering from this disease and the way in which we as policymakers can provide better treatment and help prevent the further spread of hepatitis C.