The Government is set to fund a new drug for melanoma despite a "low priority" ranking by Pharmac, one of its MPs has hinted.

Judith Collins said, when in Opposition in 2008, National had campaigned on extending access to Herceptin, and the issue around funding Keytruda (pembrolizumab) was the same.

Melanoma drug given low funding priority

"I think just wait and watch this space. Because, frankly, it is the same issue. Pharmac have a limited amount of money, they have got so much they spend, they do a great job, they are independent. But every now and then something comes along and you've just got to say, 'Something has to give on this'," Ms Collins told Paul Henry this morning.


Labour's health spokeswoman Annette King also appeared on the show, and said her party would not hesitate to fund the drug if returned to power.

"What price life?...we would fund it," Ms King said.

There needed to be a wider change to allow Pharmac to approve interim funding for new drugs, so that more data can be collected, Ms King said. Such a system was in place in the United Kingdom.

Pharmac's experts committees this week said yes to Keytruda - but only with low priority, because of "uncertainty" about its benefits and its "extremely high cost".

This means the drug, considered by some cancer specialists the greatest advance in melanoma treatment since chemotherapy was developed, is unlikely to receive state funding unless the supplier cuts the price of it or other drugs, or provides updates of clinical trial data showing greater effectiveness than the current data.

Keytruda is state funded in Australia and England.

The Government does not pay for any of the new treatments for melanoma that have become available over several years. It pays only for chemotherapy, which is widely considered of little benefit against inoperable, advanced melanoma.

Leisa Renwick, who has melanoma, tells of how she is raising money to pay for necessary medicine.

New Zealand has one of the world's highest rates of melanoma and it is our fourth most commonly registered cause of cancer. Each year about 2300 new cases are diagnosed and the disease kills about 350 people.


Ms Collins told Paul Henry that she knew Health Minister Jonathan Coleman was taking the Keytruda issue "very seriously".

Asked what she would do if Dr Coleman did not make a decision to fund the drug, Ms Collins said she would "no doubt be taking up the issue with the Minister".

"It is people's lives. This [melanoma] is one of our biggest killers in New Zealand."