Pharmac set to fund new diabetes drugs

New treatments for type 2 diabetes are on the horizon, which could help reduce long term problems like renal disease and amputations.

Diabetes is a major public health issue affecting a quarter of a million Kiwis, and advocates say it'll make a huge difference.

Phil Roberts is one of hundreds of thousands of Kiwis with type 2 diabetes.

He manages his condition through diet, exercise, and medication and the range of treatments is about to get better.

"It would mean a better variety of drugs that I could actually take, which would be really, really great," says Mr Roberts.

More than 240,000 people in New Zealand have been diagnosed with diabetes, mostly type 2.  A further 100,000 are thought to have it but don't know it.

It can lead to serious, long-term complications, including heart disease, kidney disease and amputations.

Treating it is estimated to cost the health system around $1.5-billion each year.

But the range of funded diabetes drugs here is poor compared to the rest of the developed world.

"One of the worst that's for sure and we've been pushing for these drugs for some time simply because of that," says Diabetes NZ chief executive, Heather Verry. "They're available in other countries and they should be available in New Zealand."

And they soon will be, as Pharmac announces it's looking to fund new medications called SGLT-2 inhibitors, GLP-1 agonists and DPP-4 inhibitors.

"They can help lower blood sugar levels, but they do more than that," says Pharmac deputy medical director Dr Peter Murray, "They can help prevent some of the heart complications and kidney complications of type 2 diabetes."

Pharmac is seeking proposals from pharmaceutical suppliers, which is a commercial strategy to get the best price.

They will specifically benefit those with type 2 diabetes who have a high risk of cardiovascular disease. Māori and Pacific people are at a much higher risk and it's hoped these drugs will help close health gaps.

"It will help them to manage it, manage the complications that arise and they're just life-changing," says Heather Verry.

And patients won't have too much longer to wait, with Pharmac expected to strike a deal in the coming months.