Pharmac likely to receive funding boost

  • 01/03/2016

It looks highly likely the Government's drug-buying agency Pharmac will receive a funding boost in this year's budget.

But Health Minister Jonathan Coleman won't be directing it to fund certain drugs, such as the highly publicised melanoma treatment Keytruda, saying Pharmac needs to be left to make "the best decision in the interest of the greatest number of New Zealanders".

The comments come the same day two petitions -- together with close to 54,000 signatures -- were presented to Parliament calling on the Government to fund Keytruda for patients with advanced melanoma.

Pharmac announced late last year that it wouldn't subsidise the new generation immunotherapy treatment at this stage, saying it was as yet unproven and -- with a price tag of about $200,000 a year per patient -- too expensive.

Dr Coleman says the agency is in "complex commercial negotiations" with a range of manufacturers that make drugs similar to Keytruda.

"There's no question that there's real pressure to fund a melanoma drug, and the Government would like to see a drug funded that can benefit melanoma patients, but we've got to leave it to Pharmac to make the right decision," he told reporters today.

Prime Minister John Key says Pharmac will "almost certainly" get a boost to its $800 million budget in this year's budget.

He says he can "absolutely understand" the plight of melanoma patients who are frustrated by the lack of subsidised treatments.

However, he said there are people out there with other diseases who are also having to fund their treatment out of their own pocket, and it's Pharmac's job to weigh up "the best and most effective expenditure".

Labour wants the Government to step in to ensure Keytruda is funded, saying at the moment there's no "front line treatment" for people with advanced melanoma.

Leader Andrew Little has mooted "tweaking" the Pharmac model so it can allow funds to be available for new treatments that are available in other countries on a short-term basis, until more clinical data is available.

Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague says politicians shouldn't be involved in drug-funding decisions.

"We've been saying for years that the pharmaceutical budget has been under-funded and that absolutely the Government needs to be putting more money in, but it shouldn't then be tagging that and saying by the way, you have to use it for that."

Mr Hague says Pharmac has a difficult job and its experts should be trusted to make decisions.