'People died' thanks to Pharmac's delay on Keytruda - survivor

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 15:  Doctor Antonella Tost, Dermatologist University of Miami School of Medicine,  examines Michael Casa Nova,12, for symptoms of skin cancer due to sun exposure on June 15, 2011 in Miami, Florida. The federal Food and Drug Administration announced that sunscreen manufacturers are to change the labels on their products to prohibit the use of certain marketing terms. The new rules are meant to help clear up confusion about the meaning of "sun protection factor," or SPF, and other terms like "waterproof."  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A woman who paid for her own cancer treatment says Pharmac needs to change the way it funds innovative medicines like pembrolizumab.

The Government's drug-buying agency yesterday confirmed it would fund the drug, marketed as Keytruda, from September.

Leisa Renwick successfully fought off melanoma, but paid for it out of her own pocket. She organised a petition calling on Pharmac to pick up Keytruda, and says it's taken too long to get it 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."

She now wants a review of the way Pharmac chooses where to spend its money.

"The Pharmac model's not keeping up with these innovations. If we want to stay a first-world health system, we want these new drugs."

Keytruda costs more than $10,000 a month. Pharmac declined a funding application received in September 2015, citing the cost and a lack of clinical evidence.

"Since we first received the funding application for pembrolizumab, new information has emerged that has given Pharmac the confidence we needed to progress the funding decision," director of operations Sarah Fitt said yesterday.

Pembrolizumab was invented a decade ago, and approved for use the US in 2014.