Pharmac funds new HIV drug

HIV patients have a new fully funded treatment option, but have missed out on funding for another which increases the new drug's effectiveness.

The Government drug funding agency Pharmac yesterday said it would fully fund Isentress, the first in a new class of medications called integrase inhibitors.

It works by preventing HIV viral DNA inserting itself into human DNA, blocking the virus's ability to replicate and infect new cells.

"This is great news for people with HIV infection who have limited treatment options, and for the doctors treating them," said Auckland City Hospital infectious disease physician Simon Briggs.

"The funding of Isentress is timely as some of these patients have been waiting for new, funded HIV medications for some years."

The Aids Foundation welcomed the funding for Isentress, but questioned why Pharmac would not also pay for a protease inhibitor called Darunavir.

Darunavir increases the efficacy of Isentress when the two are used together.

Developed by Janssen-Cilag, Darunavir has been funded in Australia for nearly two years.

Isentress and Darunavir were approved by Medsafe last year and Janssen-Cilag gives free Darunavir to 30 people in New Zealand through a compassionate supply programme.

"The availability of Isentress is timely," said Aids Foundation spokesman Eamonn Smythe.

"Over the next few years, increasing numbers of patients will require this new class of medication.

"However, research has shown that Isentress and Darunavir, when used in combination with each other, are extremely effective in the management of HIV," he said.

A Pharmac spokesman said Darunavir was a different drug made by a different company, and was not included in the deal Pharmac struck with drug company Merck Sharp & Dohme which makes Isentress.

Any deal with Janssen-Cilag would have to be addressed separately. It was on a "to-do list" but was not guaranteed, he said.

Pharmac will also fund other new drugs after it came to an agreement with Merck Sharp & Dohme.

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