The drug Truvada will not be subsidised in Australia Photo: Jeff ChiuAn expensive breakthrough drug that prevents people from getting HIV won’t be funded by taxpayers in Australia this year, the nation’s drug funding panel has ruled.
Truvada, a once-daily pill shown to be highly effective at preventing HIV in people at risk of getting the virus, costs about $1200 a month to buy in Australia. It can also be bought on the internet and imported into Australia for less than $100.
HIV advocates and groups say the drug is so popular among men having sex with men that it has the potential to halve the number of HIV transmissions in Australia within a year if it was made more affordable.
The antiretroviral drug, which is being used as a strategy known as “pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)”, was approved for use in Australia in May.
But late on Friday the independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee announced it had rejected a proposal for it to be subsidised on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said the PBAC understood “this is an important new prevention medication for HIV”, but decided the price set by the drug’s sponsor, Gilead Sciences, was too high and a proposal to limit subsidy to a small subset of the “at risk” group was not feasible.
“In its deliberations the PBAC indicated a substantial price reduction would be needed to make Truvada available for PrEP for the whole ‘at risk’ population, but noted that Truvada for PrEP could represent value for money in the broader population at a substantially lower price,” the spokeswoman said.
“There are medicines and vaccines subsidised on the PBS or the National Immunisation Program for prevention purposes but these are purchased from the pharmaceutical companies at a much lower cost.”
The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations chief executive Darryl O’Donnell said the decision would limit access to an effective prevention tool while people were “needlessly getting HIV”. He called on Gilead to “urgently submit a new application for Truvada and do whatever it takes to ensure the next submission is successful.”
Victorian AIDS Council chief Officer Simon Ruth said that while at-risk people could access the drug through major trials in Melbourne, Sydney and Queensland, those living in other states may be excluded by price.
“If you’re anywhere else in Australia you have to import yourself and that can be incredibly difficult and not cost effective,” he said.
Mr Ruth said Gilead Sciences could resubmit an application for public funding as soon as November with a possible further decision from the committee in March.
AFAO president Bridget Haire said their modelling found wide access to the drug would halve the estimated 1200 new infections that occur each year in Australia.
“This drug is our best hope of Australia meeting its targets to dramatically reduce HIV infections,” she said.
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