Keytruda battle probably the first of many

  • 19/08/2016
Keytruda battle probably the first of many

Melanoma experts believe hundreds of patients could have been saved if our drug funding processes weren't so slow.

A study published today in the New Zealand Medical Journal shows New Zealand lags internationally in funding drugs that show that show promise in treating melanoma.

Pembrolizumab, marketed as Keytruda, costs more than $10,000 a month. Pharmac declined a funding application for it in 2015, before approving it earlier this month.

Melanoma New Zealand spokesperson Rosalie Fisher believes the process has been unsatisfactory.

"There are going to be other high-cost but effective drugs for other types of cancer and other very serious diseases. Even though we have had some relief with the recent decision, this is going to be a recurrent issue."

Ms Fisher wants new funding strategies explored.

"We have to accept that there is a limited budget, but we think it is worth challenging the status quo and looking at all stakeholders in this process."

Melanoma NZ claims hundreds of melanoma patients have died waiting for drugs to be approved, and the Government's response has been far too slow.

"Pharmac have decided to fund pembrolizumab and nivolumab, but there are still questions about the process because it was a long process and it involved a rather public battle."

Leisa Renwick was one patient who paid for her own pembrolizumab treatment before it was funded.

"It was an effective drug that was expensive, and fortunately the Government did step forward in the Budget and did allow Pharmac more funding, and that's fantastic - but it shouldn't have taken that long because people died."