Hepatitis C patients in the UK are celebrating the news that NHS England has approved an £18.7 million investment to pay for Gilead Science's controversial treatment Sovaldi.

Around 500 patients with acute liver failure, and/or awaiting liver transplantation, are expected to benefit from the decision to fund Sovaldi (sofosbuvir), taken by NHS England’s Clinical Priorities Advisory Group. Until the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence completes its review later this year, the move means that the drug will be funded for those patients at significant risk of mortality or who require transplantation.

Sovaldi is very much in the spotlight at the moment given that it has been shown to achieve over 90% cure rates within just 12 weeks of treatment. However, controversy surrounds the fact that the drug costs $84,000 (in the USA) and despite its startling effectiveness, some observers fear that the drug could have a devastating effect on the finances of some healthcare systems.

The UK's Hepatitis C Trust had earlier expressed its concern that lives were being put at risk at a delay in approval but has now stated that it is "delighted NHS England has chosen to act swiftly on this matter".

James Palmer, clinical director of specialised services, said the funding is "evidence of NHS England’s commitment to widen access to cutting-edge drugs, treatments and therapies where both clinically appropriate and cost effective". He added that "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”.
Graham Foster, co-chair of the Hepatitis C Clinical Reference Group sub-group noted that Sovaldi "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 concluded by stating that "the availability of these drugs will ensure that NHS patients are among the first in Europe to benefit from these revolutionary new drugs”.