National delivers Herceptin Christmas gift for NZ women

10th December 2008

The government’s announcement it will provide funding for 52 weeks of the breast cancer drug Herceptin means Christmas will come early for hundreds of New Zealand women with Her2 positive early breast cancer and their families.

Libby Burgess, chair of the Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition says the decision comes as a huge relief for the women of New Zealand.

‘It is wonderful that the government has acted so quickly, alleviating the stress and anxiety of women whose best chance of long term survival depends on receiving this clinically proven treatment.’

This announcement has brought welcome relief to hundreds of New Zealand women needing Herceptin and their families, as well as breast cancer advocacy groups who have campaigned for three years for this day.’

BCAC has campaigned for access to 52 weeks since 2005 when data from the HERA trial showed the effectiveness of Herceptin in preventing recurrence of this disease. By 2006 trials were showing that this early benefit translated into survival advantages for women who received a full year of Herceptin treatment.

“While we’re happy Herceptin has finally been funded for the full 52 weeks, we’re extremely disappointed it’s taken so long, and a change of government, for common sense to prevail’.

 Ms Burgess says BCAC is delighted the government will back-date reimbursement for women who have paid for their own Herceptin to November 19th and that those who have recently finished a shortened course will be offered access to further funded treatments.  

‘The fact this access will be provided on the recommendation of the oncologist treating the woman shows we finally have a government that is listening to the experts who best understand the evidence in this matter - that’s what we‘ve been asking for all along.’

Ms. Burgess says the long battle for access to the 12 month Herceptin course brings into question the adequacy of PHARMAC’s decision-making processes when dealing with high-cost medicines.

‘It’s become clear that PHARMAC’s processes concentrate too much on saving money and not enough on saving lives - while we applaud the government’s pledge to invest more in medicines for New Zealanders , we hope they will  improve the processes used for evaluating whether a treatment should be funded.’  

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