PHARMAC rejects own experts' view on breast cancer drug

Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition media release, 23 April 2019: PHARMAC has refused funding for Kadcyla, an important drug that has recently had a high media and public profile.

“This is a huge blow for women with advanced HER2 positive breast cancer who took a petition to Parliament in October 2018 calling for PHARMAC to fund this medicine,” Breast Cancer Aotearoa Chair Libby Burgess says.

Kadcyla has been refused for funding despite being recommended by PHARMAC’s own clinical experts on its Cancer Treatments Committee.

“It has been funded in Australia since 2015, showing yet again how poorly New Zealand women with breast cancer are treated in New Zealand when it comes to medicines funding,” Libby says.

International advanced breast cancer expert Dr Fatima Cardoso urged NZ to prioritise funding for anti-HER2 medicines such as Kadcyla given the shockingly low survival of only 13 - 16 months for women with this type of breast cancer in New Zealand, compared to 5 years or more in other developed countries. 

The European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) publishes consensus guidelines for treating advanced breast cancer developed by expert oncologists.  The guidelines describe nine different treatments for the HER2 positive sub-type that are not funded in NZ, Libby says.

In total the ESMO guidelines outline 24 treatments for the different sub-types and stages of advanced breast cancer that remain unfunded in NZ. These include six drugs that are not funded at all in NZ and others that are funded for very restricted uses, preventing oncologists from using them in the most effective ways for their patients.

BCAC is now petitioning the Government to adopt the ESMO guidelines to treat NZ women with the accepted global standard of care. “It’s appalling that our politicians are standing back and leaving women to die when there are effective medicines available to treat them. This has created a two-tier health system – if you can afford to pay for the latest medicines you’ll live a longer, better life. This is creating deep inequities and is hurting many women and their families”.

The Government must realise that capping our medicines budget at only 0.34% of GDP compared to the OECD average of 1.4% means New Zealanders with many diseases are suffering and dying early.  NZ spends only $199 per person on medicines each year, while the OECD average is $954. 

“This mean-spirited approach to providing medicines is rooted in the PHARMAC model that was established 25 years ago. Review of that out-dated system is long overdue. Even doubling the medicines budget wouldn’t bring us up to the level of care provided as a matter of course in other countries, but it would be a good place to start. We need a person-centred approach that delivers better health for New Zealanders, not a harsh system that refuses to fund medicines such as Kadcyla that are globally recognised as the standard of care”.

Even with early detection, 20 to 30% of New Zealanders diagnosed with breast cancer will go on to develop advanced disease. You can help them to receive the care they deserve by signing BCAC’s petition” Petition of Emma Crowley for Breast Cancer Aotearoa: Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition: Fund breast cancer drugs

Media contact:

Ali Tocker, Communications Advisor, phone 027 211 2159, email



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