Coronavirus: Pharmac strikes deal to buy Ronapreve drug to help protect Kiwis fight COVID-19

New Zealand drug buying agency Pharmac has negotiated an agreement with pharmaceutical supplier Roche to purchase the Ronapreve COVID-19 treatment.

The antibody-based therapy from Roche Products will save lives and cut time in hospitals, according to Health Minister Andrew Little. 

Ronapreve has shown promise in clinical trials in treating COVID-19 and was approved by UK regulators in August. It's received emergency approval to treat COVID-19 in more than 20 countries. 

A large trial showed Ronapreve cut the risk of catching COVID-19 from infected household contacts while also lessening the length of time they had high viral loads and how long they had symptoms for. 

The Roche drug still has to be approved by Medsafe, but has been approved in Australia.

Pharmac has secured access to enough doses of Ronapreve to be able to treat 5300 people and expects to be able to buy more next year, according to Little. 

"Earlier this month, we were one of the first countries to buy molnupiravir, an anti-viral drug showing promising potential at stopping people with mild-to-medium symptoms of COVID-19 needing to go to hospital," Little says.

"I am very pleased that Pharmac has secured access to another important drug that could help treat people with medium-to-severe COVID-19, especially those with compromised immune systems.

"Ronapreve is a monoclonal antibody drug and there is a lot of excitement about it. The clinical advice is that it is a massive advance because it reduces the severity of COVID-19 and decreases the risk of patients passing the virus on to other people."

Pharmac's chief executive says she's thrilled to be able to strike a deal to provide Kiwis with another layer of defence for people that become unwell because of COVID-19. 

"While getting vaccinated is by far… the best line of defence against COVID-19, it's good to know New Zealand will have another treatment available for those who do become unwell," says Pharmac chief executive Sarah Fitt. "The unprecedented nature of the pandemic, and the ongoing health risks posed by COVID-19, means Pharmac is continuing to seek out other treatments to be used to help those with COVID-19."

The Health Minister stressed not only would the new treatment could save lives but it would also take pressure off New Zealand's hospitals. 

"That's hugely important, not only because of the lives it could save directly but also because it will take pressure off our hospitals, which means they can get on with treating people with other conditions," Little says.

“When we created the special COVID-19 budget, we expected Pharmac to act quickly and secure treatments for New Zealand, and that’s what it’s doing.

"Ronapreve, along with molnupiravir and other drugs, form part of our armoury against the COVID-19 pandemic, protecting people and hospital services against its worst impacts.

"However, other actions are still just as important as they have ever been. Getting at least 90 per cent of people who can be vaccinated, and practical measures like wearing facemasks and social distancing are all part of the deal.

"New Zealand has done exceptionally well at dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Our infection and death rate is just a fraction of that in other countries because we've done what needed to be done, but we need to keep going."

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