Pharmac confirms funding for melanoma drug


Drug-buying agency Pharmac has confirmed funding for advanced skin cancer drug, Opdivo, following a public outcry over a lack of options for melanoma sufferers.

In December, Pharmac announced it would not fund melanoma drug pembrolizumab, also known as Keytruda, saying there was not enough evidence to show it works. 

Melanoma campaigners have been calling for funding for new treatments, and Pharmac today announced nivolumab (brand name Opdivo) will be fully funded from July 1.

It follows extra funding from the Government in this year's Budget.

"It's just wonderful to be in a position where we've got a treatment where we're really convinced that the data shows patients are going to live better and going to live longer as a result of that treatment," says Pharmac chief executive Steffan Crausaz.

It is expected to benefit around 350 patients a year.

Melanoma drug campaigner Leisa Renwick says it's exciting news.

"Finally we have a treatment across the line.  Finally melanoma patients in this country have a chance."

Mrs Renwick, who is using Keytruda, says it's a great leap forward but the next step is to get targeted therapies called BRAF inhibitors funded.

"We're still not where Australia is.  Immunotherapy drugs alone did not save me, BRAF inhibitors saved me, immunotherapy drugs have given me a future."

The Cancer Society says it's great news off the back of last year's disappointing decision not to fund pembrolizumab (Keytruda).

"This is probably the best of the bunch so far.  Nivolumab, pembrolizumab, they're both pretty much identical and we'd have been happy with either.  It's Pepsi and Coke, virtually the same, there are a few subtle differences but oncologists largely regard them as identical." says Cancer Society medical director Dr Chris Jackson.

But he says it's just the first step.

"New Zealanders have had no effective funded therapy for advanced melanoma and today we got onto rung one of the ladder, although there are many steps above."

Pharmac also announced six other new treatments will also get funding.

They are:

From 1 July 2016:

From 1 August 2016:

Oestradiol patches for menopausal women

From 1 December 2016:

Temozolomide for brain tumours and neuroendocrine tumours

Pharmac chief executive, Steffan Crausaz, says feedback from the health sector played an important part in the funding decisions, which will benefit over 40,000 people.