Federal government will add first drug for 'hidden arthritis' on Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme

Treatment advances: A drug that treats a condition where the immune system attacks the spine is available on the PBS from December 1. Picture: Michele Mossop
Treatment advances: A drug that treats a condition where the immune system attacks the spine is available on the PBS from December 1. Picture: Michele Mossop

Arthritis is commonly associated with elderly people, but a debilitating arthritic condition that affects people younger than 40 has inspired the government to stand up and notice.

Thousands of Australians who suffer from severe inflammatory spinal arthritis will benefit from a new drug that will this year be available at a more affordable price.

Almost 4000 patients who suffer from active non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis will be able to access the treatment, Simponi (Golimumab), from December 1.

The medication is one of the next drugs to be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), and will save patients more than $15,000 a year.

Often called the hidden form of arthritis, non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis typically affects young adults with symptoms similar to a sporting injury which may not be detectable through x-ray, which means the condition may remain undiagnosed for many years. 

Most are struck down by the disease in their 20s or 30s. It results in back pain, fatigue and stiffness, which could lead to abnormal stiffening and immobility of the joints. 

Damage is progressive and irreversible and there is increased risk of spinal fracture later in life. Over time, permanent damage to spinal mobility and function occurs.

The drug can reduce inflammation, swelling and joint destruction by blocking inflammation through changes to the immune system. It can however lower the body’s ability to fight infection.

The medication will be of particular benefit to patients who are no longer able to relieve the inflammation and pain using conventional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

It currently costs more than $1300 per script. A new script will cost a maximum of $39.50 per script, or $6.40 for concession card holders.

The federal government has also negotiated immediate compassionate access for patients, meaning those who need it most will have access to the medication without having to wait until it is listed on the PBS.

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