No Pharmac funding for Keytruda drug

  • 02/12/2015
No Pharmac funding for Keytruda drug

Pharmac has decided not to fund pemrolizumab, also known as Keytruda – an immunotherapy drug oncologists say is revolutionary for melanoma treatment.

Medsafe approved the drug in September, but Pharmac's clinical advisory committee says it's not confident in the magnitude or durability of the research.

"According to current data most people who receive pembrolizumab for malignant melanoma will not see a response in their tumours," says Pharmac in a report released today.

"Of those people that do get a response, it is not clear at this time whether pembrolizumab will help them live longer."

The drug is funded in Australia and the UK, but New Zealanders will have to raise their own funds. The drug can cost upwards of $10,000 per patient every three weeks.

"Pembrolizumab is an expensive medicine," says Pharmac. "For Pharmac to justify an investment of this size, we'd need to see more certainty of benefit in the evidence, and more reliable evidence on the best use of pembrolizumab."

Pharmac says it will consider working with the supplier to develop further evidence in support of the drug and potentially set "a more appropriate price given the current evidence base".

"We currently consider that other medicines offer better, and more certain, value than pembrolizumab in terms of delivering better health outcomes for all New Zealanders."

New Zealand and Australia have the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, killing 300 Kiwis per year.

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