Mixed reactions to cancer drug promise

Stuart Edwards would like to see Daratumumab funded by Pharmac. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver.

Some cancer patients say the government's treatment pledge comes too late - while others are still in the dark about whether game-changing drugs will be funded for them.

On Monday, the government announced a $604 million funding boost for Pharmac - delivered over four years - which it says will allow the drug-buying agency to fund 26 cancer treatments, and 28 other medicines.

Auckland resident Mandy Grantley has stage four bowel cancer. The 57-year-old has paid $100,000, funded by a Givealittle page, for two rounds of cetuximab.

The drug will now be funded, but she fears it may be too late.

"It's great news, as long as you don't die between now and October when they start rolling them out," she says.

"Why wait until October? Do it now. We've been waiting over 20 years for a new bowel drug to be funded - 20 years, now we have to wait until October?"

Cetuximab is delivered intravenously - so it's likely Mandy Grantley will wait longer than others taking oral medicines.

The drug has kept her cancer at bay for three years, and it has been an exhausting wait to find out if the cost pressures will be eased, says Mandy, who is also a patient advocate for Bowel Cancer New Zealand.

"Fund the drugs now, you already promised it back in November, it's going to be a year before they've done anything."

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon says about 175,000 people will benefit from the newly funded treatments in the first 12 months.

That includes seven of the 13 drugs promised before the election - but which have not been guaranteed until now.

"As I said at the time - I think we could have communicated it better, but what's exciting is we talked about thirteen cancer treatments and now we have 26 cancer treatments."

Specific treatments for bowel, liver, kidney, lung and bladder cancer have been named.

Health Minister Shane Reti says these drugs will be rolled out in a phased approach from October.

"Our hope would be - and some of the phasing would be - that if we've started in October and November this year, that within a year we've rolled out most of these other medicines."

He says Pharmac will need to go through its procurement process.

Treatments for other cancers, such as blood cancer and breast cancer, will also be funded - the details of these haven't been announced yet and that's up to Pharmac.

Wairarapa resident Stuart Edwards, 50, has multiple myeloma. He says he is crossing his fingers that the life-changing drug he needs - daratumumab - will be funded.

"Daratumumab is something that can be seen - not quite as curative - but as having a really significant impact on life and productivity, and that's been demonstrated without doubt," he says.

"It's not there as a pain management tool, it's a tool which can get people living a normal life."

He has already paid a "massive" $84,000 for eight injections of the drug through an induction treatment, prior to a stem-cell transplant.

He says he has been extremely lucky to have family financial support to allow him to do this, while he has watched other cancer patients struggle to get time off work for gruelling treatments.

When his cancer comes back, he is looking at potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund it again - a year-long course of the drug can cost $220,000.

That fills him with dread.

"You know how you get that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you get bad news?

"That's the feeling you sort of walk around with - that feeling of having the wind knocked out of you really."

Stuart - previously co-owner of a cycle tours business in Martinborough - says he feels he has another 20 years of work and life left in him.

He says daratumumab has been funded in at least 48 other countries as standard practice - and he hopes there will be more relief for people like him soon.

Myeloma New Zealand chairperson Barbara Horne says myeloma is the second most common blood cancer in New Zealand and it has been 10 years since a new myeloma medicine has been funded here.

"We hope the funding decision will lead to treatments like daratumumab and carfilzomib being funded.

"Applications for these treatments have been with Pharmac since November 2017 and August 2018 respectively, and patients are dying because they cannot access them."




Posted on 25-06-2024 16:31 | By Let's get real

I want it now, mentality.
I accept that it's life and death for some, but that has always been the case with new drugs. To criticise any political party for delays in supply, when they are not in a position to instruct pharmac directly is just wrong.
The current criticism is really just political point scoring from other parties that never performed whilst in the seats of influence.

Let's get real

Posted on 26-06-2024 11:03 | By Yadick

Exactly. Well said.

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