Vital drugs made cheaper

Eleven new drugs for conditions ranging from cystic fibrosis to infertility will receive taxpayer subsidies, cutting the price of medicines by thousands of dollars for 45,000 patients.

Among them is Bronchitol, a drug discovered and trialled in Australia. The portable inhaler hydrates and helps to expel mucous - reducing the chances of bacterial infection in the lungs, a continual affliction for many people with cystic fibrosis. It would normally cost patients up to $7247 a year, but will now be capped at $5.80 per script for concession cardholders and $35.40 for others.

The federal Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek, lauded the decision to subsidise the drugs under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

''This will ensure more patients have greater access to the medicines and treatment they need at subsidised prices,'' she told The Sun-Herald.

The listing of Bronchitol - also known as Mannitol - is expected to give up to 325 young people relief from some of the many awful symptoms of the chronic genetic illness - hacking coughing fits, continual lung infections and reduced lung capacity.

Sian Ellett, 23, a masters student in creative writing at Melbourne University, was one of the patients involved in the trials and said the drug had had a profound impact in reducing prolonged coughing fits and chest infections.

''[Cystic fibrosis] means bugs grow really easily in the lungs, you are really susceptible to being sick, you'll often be on antibiotics,'' she said.

''That's where the Mannitol came in and changed things. I wasn't coughing as intensely, didn't get sick as often, my neck and back were able to relax a bit.

''When I was coughing, instead of going into this big wheezy, tight, painful condition, the Mannitol broke away whatever was in my lungs. So instead of having a 10 to 15-minute coughing fit, I'd just cough maybe twice and it would stop.''

Perth mother Carmel Rankin said the drug, in conjunction with an intense physiotherapy and dietary program at hospital, had helped to boost her eight-year-old daughter Sarah's lung function.

A big attraction had been that it took only three or four minutes to use, and did not require a nebuliser that had to be sterilised.

''Because it is quicker and easier to do, she can do it by herself without me,'' she said. ''It makes the mucous more hydrated and easier to cough up … The lungs fill with mucous which is a breeding ground for bacteria.''

The story Vital drugs made cheaper first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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