Millions of Australians living with kidney disease are set to benefit after the Government announced it was funding a Melbourne-developed drug that has the potential to prevent kidney failure and get people off gruelling dialysis faster.
Minister for Health Greg Hunt announced that $22 million from the Federal Government’s Biomedical Translation Fund (BTF) would be invested into Certa Therapeutics to make the miracle drug more commercially available to patients who need it most. The funding will give Australian patients the opportunity to directly access the medicine through clinical trials. By taking the drug, patients are less likely to suffer from kidney failure and will spend less time on dialysis.
Chronic kidney failure affects 1.7 million Australians, or one in 10 adults. It’s something Brisbane grandfather Terry Portman knows about all too well. He was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease in his thirties and spent three years on dialysis when his kidneys failed as a result of his disease.
In simple terms, dialysis helps the body do what the kidneys no longer can when they fail. Hermodialysis, the type of dialysis Terry received, sees two needles injected into a patient’s arm to remove blood, clean it and feed it back to the body. A machine is used to filter the patient’s blood and remove waste products and water that the kidneys of healthy people do on their own. During dialysis, patients need to restrict fluid intake as their body has no natural way of removing excess fluids and toxins without the help of the machine.
Although he eventually had a successful kidney transplant in November of 2011, Terry was told research like the one the Government is now investing in was decades away when he was on dialysis.
“At that stage, when I did it between 2009 and 2011, there were signs they were starting to do some research, but it was at least 20 or 30 years away,” he explained to Starts at 60. “It’s happened a lot quicker than what I thought.”
He said having the option available would improve the quality of life for people with kidney failure.
“I think it would have been worthwhile trying,” Terry said. “Maybe it wouldn’t have helped me so much, but the research they would have got from that may have helped future generations. If you didn’t have to dialyse, it would probably free you up to have a more quality of life until you could have a transplant, or maybe it completely stops the transplant. It would have been a big change.”
Minister Hunt said the $22 million investment in Certa was the largest single investment to date by the BTF and would help the thousands of people currently living with kidney disease.
“Kidney disease is common, harmful, and causes significant costs to individual sufferers and the Australian economy at large,” he said in a statement. “This significant investment will not only benefit the individual recipients, but also improve the health and wellbeing of the nation.”
Financial cost aside, the other biggest burden for Terry was having to be in close proximity to his hospital’s dialysis centre for years while he waited for a transplant. He was unable to travel for more than three days at a time and was required to be hooked up to a machine for a minimum of three days a week for four hours each time.
“The main impact was dialysis reduced my ability to travel and have holidays away from my dialysis centre,” he explained. “My work opportunities were limited sometimes and I basically got very tired between dialysis sessions. There were times where I had to go to hospital and that required family driving me, dropping me off and picking me up. It also had a big impact on the family.”
While Terry was able to continue working while he was receiving dialysis, he said there would have been a big financial burden if he didn’t have a regular income.
“I was lucky because I was still able to work, but basically I would have been forced onto Newstart if I wasn’t capable of working and you have a lot of medical expenses,” he said. “If you’re not covered by private health, there’s a lot of blood tests and things like that, so it’s quite a financial burden.”