Pharmac urged to reconsider Keytruda decision

  • 15/02/2016
Labour health spokesperson Annette King (File)
Labour health spokesperson Annette King (File)

Labour's health spokesperson Annette King is urging Pharmac to reconsider its decision not to fund the immunotherapy treatment Keytruda.

The Government drug-buying agency announced in December it wouldn't fund the medicine, which helps people with advanced metastatic melanoma, with Health Minister Jonathan Coleman confirming he would not overrule the decision>

Ms King has been contacted by an Auckland woman who's had to fork out more than $30,000 for Keytruda treatment, and says the Government should foot the bill.

"This woman was told she was going to die. She has such a remarkable response. She is back at work because she needs to pay for the drug," she says.

Ms King is now urging ministers and Pharmac to reconsider their position.

Prime Minister John Key says he isn’t ruling out allowing boosting Pharmac's budget so it would have more money to fund drugs such as Keytruda.

"There has been a pretty substantial increase in Pharmac's funding ... and we're certainly not ruling out putting in more," he told the Paul Henry programme this morning.

"We do prefer, notwithstanding the hypocrisy of what we did with [breast cancer drug] Herceptin, to let Pharmac make those decisions."

Pharmac has declined to immediately fund the treatment, designating it a low priority as it was unproven and too expensive.

It says data showed most patients who took it saw no response in their tumours, and it was unclear whether it helped people live longer.

The decision drew fierce criticism from the Cancer Society and Melanoma New Zealand which accused Pharmac of failing to cope with breakthrough cancer drugs.

Mr Key said drug trial results showed it was effective for just one third of suitable patients.

Indications are that other new cancer drugs may be more effective, he said.

Keytruda, or pembrolizumab, is approved for use in 30 countries as a first line immunotherapy treatment that uses the body's own immune system to detect and destroy the melanoma.

It was registered by Medsafe in September but its $170,000-a-year price tag is still beyond the reach of most patients. Funding it could cost Pharmac $30 million a year.

Newshub. / NZN