Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Pharmac to fund melanoma drug

Photo / iStock
Photo / iStock

Pharmac negotiated a more than $100 million per year saving on the price of six medicines it will now fund for New Zealanders.

Medicine to treat six diseases, including for advanced melanoma and hepatitis C, will now be funded, it was confirmed yesterday.

Pharmac chief executive Steffan Crausaz said the six treatments would cost more than $180 million a year on the open market.

That would account for about 20 per cent of the total medicines budget, and is more than the $39 million extra annual funding given to Pharmac in last month's Budget.

"Fortunately, we haven't had to pay that much. Through negotiations with suppliers, we've been able to reduce the required funding by over $100 million every year," Mr Crausaz said.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said the new treatments would benefit over 40,000 New Zealanders.

"This includes an advanced melanoma treatment, Opdivo, which could benefit around 360 people each year, Temozolomide for brain tumours, Oestradiol patches for menopausal women, and Rituximab for nephrotic syndrome, a kidney disorder, in children.

"Pharmac is also funding two new hepatitis C treatments, Harvoni and Viekira Pak, which are a major advancement in treatment with cure rates of more than 90 per cent."

This year has seen a high-profile debate about how quickly to fund breakthrough drugs, and whether Pharmac has adequate resources.

Dr Coleman met melanoma survivors, patients and supporters outside Parliament in March, and helped accept an 11,000-signature petition calling on the Government to boost Pharmac's funding so it can fund melanoma treatment.

Patients were having to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for drugs, and some of those present at the petition hand-over pushed for greater urgency.

Petition organiser and melanoma survivor Leisa Renwick, of Tauranga, said at the time that people were desperate, and the poor could not give themselves a shot at survival.

Labour had said it would direct Pharmac to fund a melanoma drug, and wants Pharmac to be given funds to commit to new drugs like Keytruda (a rival to Opdivo) for a set period while the drug's effectiveness is still being tested.

The Green Party has expressed disappointment in that position, saying politicians should not interfere with Pharmac's decision-making, which is based on the best evidence available.

- NZ Herald

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