More breast cancer sufferers will soon have access to a treatment programme that can extend lives by six months or more, but 160 Kiwis who have already started treatment won't be eligible.

Pharmac announced today it would start funding the drug Perjeta (also known as pertuzumab), which, when used with the already funded drug Herceptin (trastuzumab), significantly improves advanced HER2+ breast cancer sufferers' prognoses.

Before being publicly funded Perjeta cost Kiwi patients $70,719, the Herald reported last year.

Pharmac acting chief executive Sarah Fitt said funding both drugs "will go a long way to improving patient outcomes".


Both drugs are manufactured by Roche. The company's general manager, Dr Dan Thurley, said more than 900 Kiwi women will get access to Perjeta now that it was funded.

But only people who haven't started Herceptin treatment will be able to get Perjeta for free.

The Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition has been lobbying for more than a year to get Perjeta publicly funded.

But the coalition was disappointed that HER2+ patients who had started Herceptin treatment won't qualify.

"[Perjeta] should be available to all New Zealand women with this form of the disease, not just those newly diagnosed," said chairwoman Libby Burgess.

The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation puts the number of Kiwis who won't qualify because they were already taking Herceptin at 160.

The decision to exclude these sufferers was "heartless", Evangelina Henderson, the foundation's chief executive, said.

"We call on Pharmac to make Perjeta available to people already battling this advanced disease here, to help those 160 New Zealanders have what could be a significantly longer time with their families."


The coalition was also campaigning for Pharmac to change its policy, allowing those already on Herceptin to get Perjeta, Burgess said.

Both Burgess and Henderson said Australian women who were already being treated with Herceptin were able to access Perjeta when it was first funded there 18 months ago.