Breast cancer charity welcomes new drug but says desperate patients need it publicly funded now

A breakthrough breast cancer drug can now be used in New Zealand, but the Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition (BCAC) is calling for Ibrance (palbociclib) to be publicly funded immediately.

MedSafe NZ has just approved the use of Ibrance for those with advanced hormone receptor positive and HER2-negative breast cancer, but it’s only available to those who can pay for it.

Ibrance is an innovative new drug and preliminary clinical evidence for it was so strong that the United States Food and Drug Administration fast-tracked its use in that country.

BCAC chairperson Libby Burgess says hundreds of women could potentially benefit from Ibrance now that it is available in New Zealand.

“This medicine is a game changer for women with hormone receptor positive, but HER2-negative breast cancer. It will give them a better quality of life and more time with their loved ones.

“But many will still miss out on this potentially life-saving medicine because it is not publicly funded. BCAC and breast cancer patients are desperate to see PHARMAC fund Ibrance for use in our public hospitals and we hope this will happen in the near future,” she says.

Lower Hutt woman with advanced breast cancer is pleased Ibrance can be used in NZ

A Lower Hutt mother and Massey University tutor, Mary Margaret Schuck, knows better than most the value of Ibrance.

She has been travelling to Malaysia for nearly a year to purchase the drug and says she strongly backs calls for it to be publicly funded in New Zealand. 

She was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer in 2016 and following surgery has travelled to Malaysia five times, paying $7,500 each time for a three-month supply of Ibrance.  

The drug has been effective and she currently has no evidence of active disease, but Ms Schuck worries that so many others have not been able to access Ibrance.

“I just feel so awful that I’m getting it and all these other women I know are not.  We need to have it publicly funded and available for everyone,” she says. 

“Most people don’t have the ability to pay thousands of dollars every month to travel for a medicine to keep them alive. It feels so unfair that we have a system where that is the only option.”

Ms Schuck says New Zealand does not seem to value the lives of fellow Kiwis with advanced cancer.

“It feels like we live in a country where your life is not worth anything if you can’t be cured. They simply say, ‘we don’t care’. But many women with advanced cancer still have jobs, still have children who need us, and we’re still active in our communities. We should still be a priority,” she says.

Ms Schuck is pleased Ibrance is now available in New Zealand but says she will continue to travel to Malaysia because the medicine is likely to be cheaper there.

However, she fears the toll this course of action will take on herself and her family, both personally and financially.

“I know I’m lucky that we can do this, but I don’t know how long we can continue to do it when our mortgage grows larger with every trip overseas. I’m really worried that the day will come when I’ll have to stop taking Ibrance because we can no longer afford it. And that will bring my death that much closer,” she says.

Ibrance is a significant advance in treatment

BCAC chairperson, Libby Burgess, says Ibrance represents a major step forward in treatment for women with the most common form of advanced breast cancer (HER2-Negative, but hormone receptor positive breast cancer).

Ibrance is given in combination with other medicines (either an aromatase inhibitor or fluvestrant). It works by interfering with certain proteins in the body (called kinases) and this helps to stop cancer cells from dividing and growing.

The Paloma-2 clinical trial showed that post-menopausal participants receiving Ibrance, plus letrozole, lived approximately 10-months longer without their cancer progressing compared with those receiving letrozole alone.

BCAC believes hundreds of women are diagnosed with advanced breast cancer every year and most of these will have hormone receptor positive, but HER2-negative breast cancer.

“Ibrance represents one of the most significant advances in treatment for women with this common form of breast cancer. It’s vital that this treatment is readily accessible to the hundreds of New Zealand women who could potentially benefit from it,” Ms Burgess says.

Ibrance is taken as an oral pill. It is produced by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer and a packet of 21 pills is expected to cost around $5,000 in New Zealand. 

Common side-effects of the drug include a decrease in infection-fighting white blood cells called neutrophils (neutropenia), low levels of white blood cells (leukopenia), fatigue, low red blood cell counts (anaemia), upper respiratory infection, and nausea.


4 Sept 2017

About funding for breast cancer medicines in New Zealand:

  • New Zealanders with breast cancer are 40% more likely to die than Australians.[1]
  • Australia spends $435 per person on medicines, but in New Zealand we spend only $184 per person[2]
  • In the UK, 80% of approved new medicines are publicly funded, in Australia 39%, but in New Zealand it’s only 13%.[3]
  • Between 2009 and 2014, New Zealand ranked last out of 20 OECD countries in access to new medicines.[4]
  • Breast cancer drugs including Kadcyla, Abraxane, Afinitor and Halaven are publicly-funded in Australia but not in New Zealand.[5] 




[1] Campbell I.D., Scott N., Seneviratne S., Kollias, J., Walters D, Taylor, C, Webster F, Zorbas H and Roder DM 2014. Breast cancer survival in New Zealand women. ANZ J Surg. 2015 Jul;85 (7-8):546-52. doi: 10.1111/ans.12851.

[2] PHARMAC NZ; Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Australia; Statistics NZ; Australian Bureau of Statistics.

[3] Access to New Medicines: Comparison Across OECD Countries. IMS Consulting Group, Report for Medicines Australia, 2015; Comparison of Access and Reimbursement Environments: A report benchmarking Australia’s access to new medicines. Medicines Australia (2015).

[4] Access to New Medicines: Comparison Across OECD Countries. IMS Consulting Group, Report for Medicines Australia, 2015; Comparison of Access and Reimbursement Environments: A report benchmarking Australia’s access to new medicines. Medicines Australia (2015).

[5] Schedule of Pharmaceutical Benefits: Effective 1 September 2016. PBS, Department of Health, Australian Government. New Zealand Pharmaceutical Schedule: effective 1st October 2016. Pharmaceutical Management Agency (PHARMAC).



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