An anxious wait by leukaemia patients for a Hospital Authority decision on whether to supply them with an expensive drug that could save their lives ended on a happy note yesterday. The Hospital Authority said last night that after repeated efforts, the authority and Novartis Hong Kong, the manufacturer of the drug, had reached an agreement to subsidise needy patients. The drug, Glivec, which costs $16,000 to $20,000 per patient each month, is already supplied free to patients in Britain and some European countries. It is also widely used in the US, where health insurance usually covers the cost. The authority stated that it had decided to provide Glivec as first-line medication for patients suffering from chronic myeloid leukaemia and gastrointestinal stromal tumours in public hospitals after continuous reviews of international clinical studies. Under the arrangement, the authority will allocate $26 million in the first year from the Samaritan Fund to subsidise the patients. An authority spokesman said details were still being decided. Legislator Lee Cheuk-yan said there would be a means test. 'Under the arrangement, some patients who have a certain level of income and assets will still need to pay for the drug. But it is such a relief to the needy patients. It is hard for many families to afford the drug.' Patients' Rights Association spokesman Tim Pang Hung-cheung welcomed the arrangement but said the authority should have done better. 'Many needy patients have waited so long for the decision,' he said. 'If the Hospital Authority had handled the issue properly, they would not have had to worry that long.'