Some lung cancer patients will soon be able to take a pill at home instead of enduring chemotherapy treatment at hospitals.

Pharmac announced today that from next month it will fund gefitinib (Iressa), a targeted treatment for lung cancer.

The pill would be first line treatment for people diagnosed with non-squamous advanced non-small cell lung cancer, the most common form of lung cancer in New Zealand.

A test will be required to help determine which patients will most benefit from treatment with gefitinib, or another similar drug already funded by Pharmac, erlotinib, which is funded as a second-line treatment option.


Pharmac medical director Peter Moodie said first-line treatment for the cancer at the moment is platinum-based chemotherapy, which can be difficult for patients to tolerate and must be administered at hospital.

"Gefitinib and other drugs of this type, called tyrosine kinase inhibitors, have several advantages over standard chemotherapy, which is something of a blunt instrument."

Dr Moody said gefitinib is a tablet that people can take at home.

"This is more convenient for patients, and it also frees up hospital resources so that more cancer patients can be treated and waiting times reduced."

Pharmac expected that, with targeting, about 100 patients per year will receive funded gefitinib treatment.

Up to $1.6 million per year is expected to be spent on the on the drug, but Dr Moodie said overall it would save DHBs money as the funded treatments are more expensive.