23 Sep 2016

Man's tumour shrinks significantly following Opdivo

From Checkpoint, 5:22 pm on 23 September 2016

Three months ago, Barry Hawes, who has terminal melanoma, had just received the first publicly funded dose of immunotherapy drug Opdivo.

He was first diagnosed with melanoma on his arm 14 years ago, and this year had part of his tongue removed due to cancer. He also had a tumour on his heart.

In June, Pharmac announced it would fund the melanoma treatment.  

The decision followed intense lobbying from cancer patients and their families, who said there were simply no other treatments available.

Funding immunotherapy treatment privately cost up to $150,000 a year.

But on 1 July, Mr Hawes became the first person in New Zealand to receive Opdivo for free.

"I had open heart surgery last week, and they opened me up and found the cancer had gone to my heart, so they sewed me up again and said they couldn't do anything with it," he told Checkpoint with John Campbell in July.

"Our oncologist said that the new drug was coming in, and that I'd been chosen to be the first infusion."

Three months on and 12 Opdivo infusions later, Mr Hawes' tumour has shrunk dramatically.

"We're very happy that we're in the situation that we're in today. Couldn't ask for better news," Mr Hawes said.

"I feel very privileged to be the first one to be given the treatment - and I'm sure there will be others who have had it after us who are in the same boat."

His wife, Anne Hawes, was equally delighted.

"At the beginning of July, when he had the open heart surgery to have the tumour removed, they said they couldn't do anything, and we were all absolutely devastated.

"[Opdivo] was just this little beacon of hope there, and now that it's actually come to fruition, it's just been marvellous. We're absolutely thrilled to bits."

Mr Hawes said things could be very different, had they needed to fund the drug themselves.

"That would be a very big decision to make whether we actually went ahead with the treatment, with the costs."

Mr Hawes said they planned on going out for a celebratory lunch next week, and had popped the bubbles last night.

"We'd like to take a holiday once this is all behind us, so that's what we're hoping for," added Anne.

"It's nice to be able to look forward, just one day at a time, and on a tough day it would be one hour at a time, but now we can look forward with more hope, and that's a great gift."

Pharmac has since also started funding another melanoma drug, Keytruda.

Mr Hawes has another six infusions planned, and another scan in 12 weeks.


  • NZ lagging in melanoma drug funding - study
  • Study targets Pharmac drug-screening model
  • Melanoma cancer patients 'will no longer be ignored'
  • Advanced melanoma patient receives Keytruda infusion