Funding for breakthrough breast cancer drug welcomed, but a large number still miss out

The Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition (BCAC) is thrilled that New Zealand women with advanced breast cancer will finally be able to get the breakthrough breast cancer drug Perjeta from next year, but is bitterly disappointed that a large number will be denied access to this potentially life-extending medicine.

The Government’s drug funding agency, PHARMAC, said today it would fund pertuzumab or Perjeta for New Zealand women with Her2-Positive advanced breast cancer from January 1, 2017, however it has not considered funding the medicine for women who are already receiving treatment for metastatic breast cancer.

BCAC’s chairperson, Libby Burgess, says this effectively means that women diagnosed with terminal breast cancer prior to 2017 will not be eligible to receive the new treatment.

“Perjeta has dramatically extended and improved the lives of women with Her2-Positve advanced breast cancer and should be available to all New Zealand women with this form of the disease, not just those newly diagnosed,” Ms Burgess says

She points to the CLEOPATRA clinical trial which showed a powerful survival improvement for women taking Perjeta. The results were so powerful that women in the trial who were in the control group and hadn’t received Perjeta at first were ultimately given the drug so that they could also benefit.

“It is heartless to offer this breakthrough new medicine only to those newly diagnosed and leave all those women already diagnosed with the disease languishing with fewer treatment options.   We’d strongly urge PHARMAC to extend the funding criteria so that all women with this type of breast cancer can access this revolutionary new medicine,” Ms Burgess says.

She notes that when Perjeta was publicly funded in Australia over a year-and-a-half ago, it was funded for women diagnosed and treated up to a year earlier.

Ms Burgess says PHARMAC’s Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee (PTAC) will consider whether funding should be extended to previously-treated patients at its next meeting in February.

She says BCAC hopes the agency will see fit change its policy then and recognise the unfairness of denying so many women with a terminal disease access to a potentially life-changing medicine.

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