Pharmac has today announced that Roche, the global pharmaceutical company which provides tocilizumab, will not provide New Zealand with product for the next three months, due to massive demand worldwide.

“Tocilizumab (Actemra) is an anti-inflammatory drug, delivered via an infusion, used mainly to treat arthritis,” explains Pharmac’s director of operations Lisa Williams. “In New Zealand, about 400 people use Pharmac-funded tocilizumab for a number of conditions such as rheumatoid and juvenile arthritis. Tocilizumab is still under patent protection; this means no other companies, other than Roche, are able to manufacture this product. There are no biosimilar alternatives available in New Zealand.”

“We have been in regular contact with Roche over the past 12 months to ensure continuity of supply of tocilizumab. Roche assured Pharmac there would be no issues. However, Roche has now told Pharmac it is out of stock and cannot meet its contracted obligations to provide New Zealand with normal volumes of tocilizumab.”

Tocilizumab is also being used, globally, to treat hospitalised patients with moderate to severe Covid-19. Tocilizumab is not currently Medsafe approved for use in the treatment of Covid-19.

“We understand tocilizumab for use in Covid-19 has received FDA issued emergency use authorisation and is undergoing international regulatory assessment. Studies have shown tocilizumab may help hospitalised Covid-19 patients, reducing severity and time in hospital.

“Because of this, there has been increased demand for tocilizumab. This has caused supply to be unstable worldwide. Australia has put limits on the use of tocilizumab and the US is experiencing shortages as the world deals with the effects of Covid-19.

“Pharmac recently completed consulting with clinicians on funding tocilizumab for the treatment of moderate to severe Covid-19 in New Zealand and we expect to make a decision on this soon,” says Lisa.

“Pharmac has funded tocilizumab for more than 20 patients through our exceptions decision-making processes for treatment of Covid-19. Pharmac will continue to work closely with Roche and DHB hospitals to manage tocilizumab supplies to enable continued use for people who are at high risk without treatment, including those in hospital with Covid-19.

New Zealand will likely be out of stock of tocilizumab by October 2021. Roche NZ has indicated that it expects to be able to re-supply New Zealand in January 2022.

“We have sought advice from clinical experts and are now exploring possible alternative treatments and how we can preserve the stock we have. In the meantime, we will be asking prescribers to not start any new patients on tocilizumab.

“We are informing tocilizumab prescribers and its users about the shortage. We will be sharing what actions can be taken to minimise the impact to New Zealanders. We will continue to update people as the situation evolves.”

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