Health Minister: TPP will bring better drugs

Jonathan Coleman (Getty)
Jonathan Coleman (Getty)

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has lashed out at Trans-Pacific Partnership opponents, saying without trade deals like it, New Zealand won't be able to afford better medicines.

A funding boost for Pharmac, announced yesterday, makes it almost certain melanoma-fighting drug Opdivo will soon be available to Kiwis, who have the worst rates of skin cancer in the world.

It follows a months-long campaign to get Pharmac to fund Keytruda, a rival drug. Pharmac says Opdivo is better -- which has been disputed by Keytruda's makers, Merck Sharp & Dohme -- and it had "good commercial negotiations" with maker Bristol Myers-Squibb.

Dr Coleman says Opdivo could be available as soon as July 1. It could have been sooner, but he "didn't have any money".

"Through the Budget process we've now secured the biggest single injection into Pharmac in its history," he told Paul Henry on Thursday.

Another sticking point was the science, which is improving "exponentially".

"It would be very tempting just to jump to the first drug that you came across, but we're going to get many, many more of these," says Dr Coleman.

"We're going to have to stick with the Pharmac model -- sometimes that's going to be deeply frustrating for New Zealanders, but in the long run it's going to deliver the best drugs at the best price which will benefit the most people."

And to secure such treatments, Dr Coleman says it will come down to money.

"It's things like TPP which makes the country richer so we can afford these things. All these people who oppose things like TPP but want every drug under the sun, they're not being realistic."

Pharmac's annual budget is now $850 million.