MSD has revealed new data that it says shows new hepatitis C drugs are seeing slow uptake in the UK.

Referencing a 2012 report by the UK’s Health Protection Agency, it says these new data - which looks at the prescribing of new oral treatments for chronic hepatitis C (genotype 1) in the UK - show that less than 1 in 100 (or 0.9%*) of eligible patients are receiving these drugs.

The drugs MSD are talking about include its oral hep C treatment Victrelis and Janssen’s similar medicine Incivo. They both received approval and a joint-NICE recommendation earlier this year, and last month both drugs also won the prestigious Prix Galien award for most innovative drug of the past two years.

These oral treatments, known as protease inhibitors and the first of their kind, are given in combination with older injectable drugs - namely Roche’s treatments Copegus and Pegasys - to form a triple therapy against the disease.

Referencing data from IMS Health, MSD says that out of the 47,520 patients who are diagnosed with G1 hepatitis C in the UK - and are therefore eligible for treatment with these new drugs - only around 450 are currently receiving this triple therapy.

Charles Gore, chief executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, explains: “Unfortunately, we are still at a stage where only half of those who are estimated to have hepatitis C in the UK have been diagnosed.

“This is one of the reasons treatment rates are so low. However, this is not the only reason; patients are not being made aware of the advances in treatment. Even those who are aware still can’t access them. The Trust receives calls from people all over the country who report such problems. We have to see greater numbers being treated. Ultimately, the long-term benefit of these drugs will be measured by the lives saved.”

Cost and uptake

Another reason for low uptake could be their cost: Janssen’s drug is priced at £1866.50 for a 1-week, 42-tablet pack - this means that the maximum cost to the NHS would be £22,398 for a 12-week course of therapy.

MSD’s drug is priced at £2,800 for a 28-day, 336-tablet pack and costs £30,800 for a 44-week course. But both treatments will also need to be used alongside Roche’s injectable drugs, which add around £11,000 to the overall cost of each treatment, making them more expensive than some biological cancer medicines.

The impact of cost, however, should no longer be a factor as the UK government has recently begun a new ‘scorecard’ system, which will name and shame NHS bodies that are not allowing patients access to NICE-approved medicines within 90 days of an appraisal.

It remains to be seen if this will end the days of ‘black listing’ – and whether this is partially responsible for the relatively low uptake of these new medicines.


*MSD’s breakdown of the numbers:

•    Total number of chronically infected patients in the UK; 216,000
•    Percentage of of G1 patients within UK; 44%
•    Percentage of HCV patients diagnosed; 50%
•    Total number of eligible patients for treatment with Incivo/Victrelis; 216,000 x 0.5 x 0.44 = 47,520
•    Total number of patients receiving new hep c drugs in UK; around 4,500

•    Percentage of eligible patients receiving these new drugs in UK; (450 / 47,520) x 100 = 0.9