BCAC and NZBCF plead for a change of heart on Perjeta funding

Two of the country’s major breast cancer charities have joined forces to plead for the 160 women denied public access to the breakthrough breast cancer drug, Perjeta.

The Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition (BCAC) and the NZ Breast Cancer Foundation (NZBCF) are calling on Pharmac to extend funding for Perjeta to women already being treated with Herceptin.

Late last year, Pharmac decided to fund Perjeta, a revolutionary treatment for advanced HER2-positive breast cancer that is used in combination with Herceptin and the chemotherapy drug, docetaxel.

But it ruled that it would only fund Perjeta as a first-line treatment, which means it is only available to those who have not received any other kind of treatment for HER-2 positive breast cancer.

This has left around 160 women unable to get the ground-breaking medicine through the public system because they are already receiving Herceptin.

BCAC chair, Libby Burgess, says the decision to exclude these women is harsh.    

“We applaud Pharmac for funding this revolutionary new medicine, but we ask that they make it available to all those who could benefit from it.

“This is a small group of women with advanced HER-2 positive breast cancer and clinical trials show that although they’ve started on another treatment, many of them could live longer if they had access to Perjeta,” she says.

Libby says a 2010 clinical trial showed that half of patients who were given Perjeta, after initially receiving just Herceptin, experienced some kind of clinical benefit.

Furthermore, the primary clinical trial looking at Perjeta’s effectiveness, the CELOPATRA trial, also found that a small group of women who had started on Herceptin and then began a course of Perjeta also experienced survival benefits.

Libby says while the evidence for Perjeta as a second-line treatment (a treatment used subsequent to other treatments) is not as strong as the evidence for first-line treatment, it is still compelling.

“Perjeta is now the international standard of care for the treatment of advanced HER-2 positive breast cancer.  We really don’t want this small group of New Zealand women to miss out on quality care simply because they’ve inevitably pursued other treatment options.

“We should follow the Australian example. When they funded in Perjeta in 2014, they included those already treated with Herceptin.”

Evangelia Henderson, chief executive at the NZ Breast Cancer Foundation, agrees. “It’s not fair to deny this life-extending new drug to patients whose treatment so far has fallen short of the agreed international best practice,” she says. “We need to do the right thing by them, immediately.”

New Zealand’s Breast Cancer Special Interest Group, a group of breast cancer specialists, also supports the use of Perjeta for women already receiving Herceptin.

BCAC and the NZBCF have sent a letter outlining the case for the extension of funding for Perjeta to Pharmac’s Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee which will meet next month.

Libby says she’s hopeful Pharmac will act generously toward those women currently denied public access to a vital drug which could offer them so much hope.


08 Feb 2017

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