By: Nicholas Jones
A fund to give Kiwis quicker access to new-generation medicines will be investigated by the Government, a prospect which has left melanoma drug campaigner Leisa Renwick “ecstatic”.
Labour repeatedly called for Pharmac to be funded to set up an “early access” scheme during the push by melanoma patients to have the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab (Keytruda) funded.
Some remortgaged and fundraised to pay about $8500 every three weeks for the life-extending drug, as Pharmac cited a lack of evidence about the drug’s efficacy.
Eventually Pharmac funded Keytruda and another melanoma drug Opdivo after the Government gave an extra $39 million.
Renwick, a Tauranga secondary school teacher and mum-of-three, helped lead the campaign for a late-stage melanoma drug to be funded, and was named the Herald‘s 2016 New Zealander of the Year.
She said that in the past two weeks she had been contacted by people who are advocating for other cancer sufferers who want access to immunotherapy drugs.
“They are asking me about how to do a petition to Parliament. And we can’t do that every time we need access to a new drug. Do you just give the money to the people who can give the best presentation or make the most noise?”
The Cancer Society has called for an early-access scheme, and Labour’s previous health spokeswoman Annette King repeatedly called for one, saying that when in Government Labour would look at what funding was needed.
New Health Minister David Clark told the Herald the Government wanted to explore how such a scheme could operate.
The United States and Britain have versions of early-access schemes to let certain patients access ground-breaking drugs.
The Cancer Drugs Fund in the UK has been overspending despite budget increases, resulting in a number of treatments being taken off its list.
An analysis in the leading cancer journal Annals of Oncology found the medicine funded through the British scheme was not worth the money, as only 18 of the 47 treatments prolonged the patient’s life.
One of the paper’s authors, Professor Richard Sullivan of King’s College London, said the fund had been a “massive health error”, and the populism that drives public policy has no place in health.
Renwick, who had late-stage melanoma but is now in the clear, said she recognised money was finite, and the detail on how such a fund would be run and assessed would be crucial.
She recently attended a melanoma treatment conference in Brisbane, and that underlined how many more drug treatment options Australians and Europeans have.
“They are talking about by the year 2040 a death from melanoma should be rare. But I’m not sure it will be in this country. And that’s just melanoma.”
On its website, Pharmac said the timing of funding promising new medicines was always a careful judgment, and ideally clinical evidence should be supported by long-term data that establishes the long-term benefit of a treatment.
The agency said it sometimes receives funding applications without a full evidence base to support claims of people being cured or living longer.
“When this occurs we have to consider the benefits of funding a treatment with high uncertainty about its results with the reality that it would take funding away from other more proven treatments.”
Labour has also pledged to establish a National Cancer Agency to improve and streamline cancer care, ensuring Kiwis get the same care no matter where they live.
Source: NZ Herald