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NHSE strikes largest ever deal to ‘completely eliminate’ hepatitis C

NHS England has reached a “first-of-its-kind” deal with three major drug companies that could completely eradicate hepatitis C, weathering a lengthy negotiation process and a legal battle on the way.

The procurement deal, said to be worth over £1bn across five years, is said to be the largest in the history of the NHS and will see all five new hepatitis C drugs, which can cure the virus in weeks, at the best price for the NHS and taxpayers.

NHS England will now work together with the three drug companies to proactively identify and treat those who are unaware they have hepatitis C, launching new initiatives working with local health services and councils to find and test potential patients.

It is estimated that 113,000 people in England are living with chronic hepatitis C, and the NHS said that over 30,000 have already benefitted from the new drugs in the last few years, with the death rate falling by more than 16% between 2015 and 2017.

The NHS said the new deal will now help England become the first country in the world to completely eliminate hepatitis C, five years ahead of the World Health Organisation’s global goal of 2030.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: “It’s not often that the opportunity arises to completely eradicate a disease, but now the NHS is taking practical action to achieve exactly that.

“The NHS’s sophisticated and unashamedly rigorous negotiation on behalf of both patients and taxpayers means we’ve now been able to strike affordable deals with our life sciences partners to save many more lives and meaningfully cut health inequalities.”

The three drug companies involved in the deal are Gilead Sciences, Merck Sharp and Dohme, and AbbVie, and their initiatives will also provide services to isolated and hard-to-reach communities such as the homeless.

Rachel Halford, chief executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said it was “delighted” with the procurement, stating that by reaching those most marginalised and hardest to engage with, “we will ensure no one is left behind and stop unnecessary deaths.”

She said: “69% of people who have the virus are currently undiagnosed so the funding in the deal to help find those with hepatitis C and support them into treatment is ground-breaking.

“We believe this deal offers a unique opportunity for all stakeholders – patient organisations, pharmaceutical companies, clinicians, prison healthcare and drug misuse services – to work together to reach all those affected.”

In January, NHS England saw off a legal challenge from AbbVie who claimed the NHS had breached its duty to treat all bidders fairly.

The procurement was launched last spring in an effort to lower the cost of hepatitis C drugs, and following their legal victory restated its commitment to eliminate the virus by 2025.


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