A new antiretroviral treatment currently available in Europe and North America will be available in Australia from January 1, combining three existing medicines in one tablet.
ATRIPLA — which controls HIV by stopping the virus multiplying — will be included on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme (PBS), cutting costs for HIV patients and simplifying treatment.
National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, University of NSW director Professor David Cooper welcomed the treatment and urged drug companies to continue combination medicine development.
“It’s about making things simpler for patients. In the mid-’90s, patients were taking up to 20 pills a day. Now it’s very much simplified and they’re able to take one pill, once a day,” Cooper told Sydney Star Observer.
“It’s about simplification and if you’re going to be on a drug for life, then taking one pill a night, just before you go to bed, is helpful.”
HIV patients on the three specific doses included in the ATRIPLA tablet will now be able to take one pill daily, instead of the usual two.
“This [treatment] is one of the most common. There are lots of other combinations we use [to treat HIV] that we don’t have the advantage of co-formulation, and it’d be really good if other drug companies got together and tried to co-formulate [others],” Cooper said.
The treatment has been available for three years in the US, however, a legal wrangle between pharmaceutical companies Gilead and Merck over who would market the new drug — and delays gaining approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration and Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee — delayed its introduction to Australia.
The good news for HIV patients currently on the two tablet treatment is monthly doses with a single pill come at the lower cost of a single PBS script of $32.90 or $5.30 for concession card holders, amounting to a saving of $400 a year, or $63.60 for those covered by Medicare.
National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS health treatments and research senior coordinator Peter Canavan said the development will greatly improve treatment options for people living with HIV.
“Treatments have improved, companies have listened to what people with HIV have had to say about difficulties in terms of making it easy to adhere to the treatment,” Canavan told Sydney Star.
“Now combin[ing] three treatments into one, there is efficacy, side effects are known and are largely manageable for most.”
Canavan said the change will have a big impact on the finances of people living with HIV who find it hard to make ends meet.
“We know 31 percent of people living with HIV live below the poverty line,” he said.
“It does cut the amount people will have to pay. This is really important on the impact on people’s lives.”