Calling on the Minister to expand access to the anti-hepatitis-C drug, Sovaldi

14-05 John speaking 3

[Speaking in the Seanad during Order of Business]

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to ask the Minister for Health to come to the House to deal with a very urgent matter which I do not believe will wait for two weeks until we are back – namely, the exact timeline for the provision of an early or expanded access programme for the drug sofosbuvir, or Sovaldi, an anti-hepatitis-C drug. In the world of modern medicine we have lots of drugs that can make people a little better and produce remissions – we do not have many drugs that can actually cure a fatal illness – but this drug has been shown to be curative for patients with hepatitis C infection. Not everybody requires it urgently, but the Irish liver community has identified 100 to 200 patients in whom there is a real proximate risk of death within the next one to two years if this drug is not made available to them.

The drug itself has been associated with an extraordinarily high rate of complete clearance and probable cure of the virus which causes hepatitis C. It has also been shown to enormously reduce the risk of cancer in patients with hepatitis C. All of the existing treatments for hepatitis C and related occurrences of cancer, which may result in a necessity for extremely aggressive and expensive treatments, cost money. Not only is this humane, good science and good medicine, it is also good business. There should be no foot-dragging about this. Susan Mitchell from The Sunday Business Post highlighted the issue the other day. There is a bit of ambiguity in the statement from the Minister over the last 24 hours suggesting that the drug would be made available, but in fact, if one parses it carefully, it looks as though it might be made available if we can get the right price. We need the Minister for Health to come to the House today and clarify this.

I also want to mention in passing that today is the 39th anniversary of the death of the only doctor who died in the Northern Ireland conflict. Professor Gordon Hamilton Fairley was blown up in the streets of London by a bomb that was intended for his neighbour, who was a Conservative Party politician. Hamilton Fairley was the father of oncology in the United Kingdom and a pioneer in the development of immune and other treatments for cancer. The annual award of the European Society for Medical Oncology, the highest award in Europe that can be given for cancer research, is named after him. His name is not often spoken and he is largely a forgotten figure. There are many other forgotten figures in the annals of that particularly tragic and unnecessary conflict, but it is appropriate that his name be recorded in the House on this sad occasion of the 39th anniversary of his death. This great man died because of an Irish-related issue.

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