THOUSANDS of patients with a previously incurable strain of hepatitis C will be disease-free, with two new drugs providing the first breakthrough in a decade for treating the chronic condition.
For those unsuccessfully treated by existing drugs, hepatitis C can lead to liver cancer, organ failure and the need for a transplant.
It is expected more than 130,000 patients will benefit from two drugs, boceprevir and telaprevir, which the federal Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek, announced on Tuesday would be subsidised by the government.
Patients would otherwise pay up to $78,000 for the drugs.
''More than 40 per cent of people seen needing liver transplants have had chronic hepatitis C. These drugs, in combination with existing treatments, will lead to a much better cure rate,'' Ms Plibersek said.
''Over the next few years we hope 9000 cases of liver damage will be prevented and we will stop the need for liver transplants for 870 people.''
Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood transmission. About 220,000 Australians were living with a chronic form of the disease in 2011.
The head of the liver transplant unit at Royal Prince Alfred hospital, Geoff McCaughan, said the drugs would cure up to 75 per cent of patients with genotype 1 hepatitis C - the most common strain of the disease. Current treatments cure half of those patients.
''Treatment time will also be cut in half for many patients, from one year to six months,'' Professor McCaughan said.
Other newly subsidised drugs include an oral contraceptive, levonorgestrel, and rotigotine, a treatment for Parkinson's disease.