All veterans with hepatitis C virus infection will be able to be treated for the infection regardless of liver disease stage for fiscal year 2016, according to a press release from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The announcement comes after Congress increased funding for treatment, while HCV drug prices are currently decreasing. With the increase in funding, VA expects more veterans will begin HCV therapy every week in 2016.
“We’re honored to be able to expand treatment for veterans who are afflicted with hepatitis C,” David Shulkin, MD, FACP, under secretary of health for the U.S. department of VA, said in the release. “To manage limited resources previously, we established treatment priority for the sickest patients … if veterans are currently waiting on an appointment for community care through the Choice Program, they can now turn to their local VA facility for this treatment or can elect to continue to receive treatment through the Choice Program.”
In 2015, VA allocated $696 million for new HCV drugs, which was 17% of the VA’s total pharmacy budget. In 2016, VA anticipates spending approximately $1 billion on HCV drugs.
According to the release, over 76,000 veterans with HCV have been treated to date, of which 60,000 have been cured. Since the launch of more highly effective antivirals in 2014, more than 42,000 veterans have been treated.
Kenneth C. Frazier, chairman and CEO of Merck, applauded the VA for their efforts to treat more veterans with HCV.
“This is a good example of how government and industry can work together toward a shared goal in the best interests of public health, particularly for our veterans who are so deserving. We are thankful and privileged to have worked in partnership with the VA to help accelerate access to chronic hepatitis C treatment for America’s veterans,” Frazier said in a separate press release from Merck.
Merck introduced Zepatier (grazoprevir/elbasvir, Merck), its once-daily, fixed-dose combination tablet containing 50 mg of elbasvir, an NS5A inhibitor, and 100 mg of grazoprevir, an NS3/4A protease inhibitor, with a price and access strategy to increase access to treatment for patients with HCV covered in commercial or public plans, including veterans, according to the Merck release.
“As the single largest provider of chronic hepatitis C care in the United States, our goal has been to treat every veteran with HCV infection,” Sloan Gibson, deputy secretary for the VA, said in the Merck press release. “We are grateful to Congress and to pharmaceutical leaders like Merck that are committed to our Veterans who have nobly served our nation.”
The FDA approved grazoprevir/elbasvir for the treatment of adult patients with chronic hepatitis C virus genotype 1 and 4 infection, with or without ribavirin, in January.
Disclosure: Shulkin and Sloan are employed by the VA. Frazier is employed by Merck.