BCAC is confident that Pharmac’s switch of breast cancer drug Herceptin (trastuzumab) to Herzuma, a biosimilar version, will be safe and effective, but we wonder why it took so long to fund this cheaper alternative. BCAC is also disappointed that access has not been extended to those who need retreatment in advanced breast cancer. 

Pharmac’s switch of breast cancer drug Herceptin to Herzuma should have minimal effects on New Zealand patients, given that Herzuma has been used in Australia since 2019 and in private clinics in New Zealand since 2020 and has been found to be safe and effective. It’s good to see that Pharmac will retain a supply of Herceptin in case anyone does have problems with the new brand. 

What we don’t understand is why it took Pharmac so long to fund a biosimilar and achieve significant cost savings when the medicines budget is incredibly limited and patients with breast cancer and many other diseases are missing out on effective medicines. “An earlier switch could have seen other vital medicines funded over the last three or four years” says BCAC Chair Libby Burgess.

“We’re also deeply disappointed that Pharmac hasn’t extended access to cover those who need retreatment with this drug in advanced breast cancer. This is recommended in both the European and New Zealand Guidelines for advanced breast cancer and is provided as the normal standard of care in many other countries including Australia” says Ms Burgess. As prominent Australian medical oncologist Professor Fran Boyle said recently in relation to this “Why would you take your foot off the throat of cancer?”.

“We’d also love to see a rapidly injectable form of this drug funded as it would allow treatment in clinics closer to home and take pressure off our hospital cancer infusion services. Access closer to whānau would help to overcome inequities for Māori, Pasifika and those living at a distance from cancer treatment centres” says Ms Burgess.

Other unfunded treatments recommended in guidelines for advanced HER2-positive breast cancer include Tucatinib, Abraxane and Enhertu. There are many other medicines for different breast cancer subtypes (hormone receptor positive and triple negative) that New Zealand women are missing out on, resulting in shorter lives for our women.

For more details see BCAC's letter to Pharmac here.

Read BCAC's 2020 website article about biosimilar medicines and the inevitable switch from Herceptin to a biosimilar here.

Read BCAC's full response to the Pharmac consultation on Herzuma in June 2023.

8th June 2023