The Government has all but promised that a melanoma drug will be funded by Pharmac after the drug-buying agency gets a boost in funding with the May Budget.

The welcome announcement came as Health Minister Jonathan Coleman accepted an 11,000-signature petition calling on the Government to boost Pharmac's funding so it can fund melanoma treatment.

Read more: Tauranga woman gets Government's attention in drug funding battle

Dr Coleman says the Government is looking at how much more money Pharmac, the state's bulk-buying drug agency, could be given as part of May's Budget.


Petition organiser, melanoma survivor and Tauranga resident Leisa Renwick deserves a lot of credit for bringing pressure on the Government to make such an undertaking.

Her argument, that currently only the wealthy can afford the medicines while "the poor are sent home to die" raises serious questions about what, we as a society, find acceptable.

Do we want to live in a society that allows such a stark contrast in options?

Earlier, I accepted Mr Coleman's view that decisions on how funding is used must be left to the professionals but the Government has previously got involved in such matters.

The Government should fund Keytruda and Pharmac should make funding the drug a priority.


The New Zealand Herald this week pointed to National's 2008 election promise that it would extend treatment of the breast cancer drug Herceptin, which it later fulfilled.

So why the difference in this case?

Another question has to be asked about the prices set by pharmaceutical companies.

Mrs Renwick is on a course of immuno-therapy drugs, paying $8500 every three weeks to have a dose of pembrolizumab (Keytruda is the commercial name) at a private hospital.

Her insurance company pays the private clinic fees of $2500 each time but will not cover the cost of drugs that are not available through Pharmac.

It's an extraordinary amount of money - not that those who need the medication have much choice.

The Government should fund Keytruda and Pharmac should make funding the drug a priority.