BCAC disputes Pharmac report on access to medicines

The Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition has dismissed Pharmac’s claims that cancer medicines funded in Australia but not New Zealand lack “meaningful” health gains. 

The charity notes at least six breast cancer medicines that have significant health benefits for women with breast cancer that are funded in Australia, but not in New Zealand: Kadcyla, Perjeta, Abraxane, Faslodex, Afinitor, and Halaven. 

The Government’s drug buying agency (Pharmac) last week released a report called, Do differences in funding cancer medicines in Australia and New Zealand impact on people’s health?

The report found that Australia funded 110 cancer medicines, while New Zealand funded 101.  This includes 88 drugs funded by both countries. Australia funded a further 22 medicines that were not funded in New Zealand and New Zealand funded 13 drugs that were not funded in Australia. The report concluded that “most of the additional medicines funded in Australia but not in New Zealand do not offer health gains that would be considered clinically meaningful.”

BCAC chairperson, Libby Burgess, labelled the report as disappointing and misleading. “We’re deeply saddened that Pharmac is using its time, energy and resources on a PR exercise like this to try and justify its poor track record in funding new cancer drugs. 

“We’d much rather Pharmac focused on analysing the clinical evidence available to support the efficacy of a raft of new cancer drugs that are on the market,” Libby says. 

Since the data for this report was gathered, six new cancer medicines have been funded in Australia while only one extra has been funded in New Zealand. Says Libby: “That tells you all you need to know: funding cancer medicines is just not a priority for Pharmac and tragically that costs lives.”

Two of the medicines funded in Australia this year are Kadcyla and Perjeta.  These are both ground breaking breast cancer medicines that have been shown to have dramatic results in extending the lives of women with secondary breast cancer. 

Blenheim mother-of-four, Tracey Eising, is one of a number of secondary breast cancer patients who would benefit from Kadcyla. “If we could access these drugs it would not only extend our lives considerably but it would give us a good quality of life.” She says the side effects of her current medication including intense fatigue, forgetfulness, hair loss, weight gain and lymphedema have meant she is unable to work and enjoy a good quality of life. 

BCAC also points to other recent research that highlights the discrepancies between cancer survival rates in Australia and New Zealand. 

A recent report in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health found that New Zealand could cut cancer deaths by 700 a year if it matched Australia’s cancer survival rates. The same report also suggested that Australia’s better cancer survival rates may be due to earlier diagnosis, faster access to treatment and the use of more effective therapies. 

For Kiwis with secondary breast cancer, it is difficult to accept that if they lived in Australia they could access the medicines they so desperately need.  Says Ms Eising, “I’m not ready to die yet, especially when I know Australia is so close and that if I were there I wouldn’t be in this situation.” 

Says Libby: “New Zealanders lives matter and we’d like to see Pharmac acknowledge that by funding medicines that have the potential to save, extend and improve lives.” 

22 November, 2015


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