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Swiss hepatitis C sufferers to get full access to expensive drug

The majority of diagnosed hepatitis C infections can be traced back to intravenous drug use Keystone

The Federal Office of Public Health has announced that it will make the hepatitis C drug Zepatier available to all patients from July 1. The 12-week treatment costs CHF31,000 ($31,952) per patient and was previously only available to those with an advanced form of the disease. 

Zepatier is produced by pharma company Merck Sharp & Dohme and is a unique combination of drugs elbasvir and grazoprevir. It is effective for patients infected with genotype 1 and 4 of the disease who account for a little over 60% of all sufferers. 

Treatment with the drug will be reimbursed by mandatory health insurance from July 1 onwards for all hepatitis C patients irrespective of the level and stage of infection. 

Price was an important factor behind the government’s decision. Merck agreed to reduce the price by 35%, from CH47,690 down to CHF30,952.

“The price was based on the reference price in countries like Germany and France which offer unrestricted access to the same drug,” company spokeswoman Angelika März told 

Step forward

Advocates of unrestricted access to hepatitis C drugs welcomed the news.

“It is a very positive surprise and an important step towards eliminating the disease in Switzerland,” says Philip Bruggmann of Swiss Experts in Viral HepatitisExternal link. “I am convinced that other pharma companies will have to react in the next few months.” 

Hepatitis C affects between 50,000 to 80,000 Swiss residents – more than those with HIV AIDS. However, around half of the country’s patients only have a moderate form of the disease which means they have pay for the treatment out of their own pockets. 

That has led many to buy generic versions of the drug – manufactured under license in countries like India – online or by travelling abroad. However, patients run the risk of buying fakes or substandard products.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR