5 Mar 2020

Pharmac announces full funding for breast cancer drug

11:21 am on 5 March 2020

Pharmac have announced they will fully fund the breast cancer drug palbociclib (Ibrance) for all patients with the disease.

The booth of Pfizer Inc. during the second China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai, east China.

Pfizer is the supplier of the breast cancer drug. Photo: AFP

Access for the life-extending drug will become available to all patients, whether in the first-line, second-line and subsequent-line treatment, from 1 April.

Irbance has been described as a "vital drug for women with advanced breast cancer" by the Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition.

Pfizer New Zealand said 1100 patients this year alone will benefit the new accessibility of the drug, which will enable patients to live "well and for longer without their disease progressing."

Coalition chair Libby Burgess said "Everyone in New Zealand is affected by disease, either themselves or family members or friends.

"We all want the best care for people in need and it should be a right as a New Zealander to receive access to the medicines you need."

Prior to being funded, the drug cost patients $6000 a month for the first 11 treatments, and after that it was free. Due to the high costs, some patients travelled to Malaysia to get prescriptions where it costs $2500 a month.

Terre Nicholson, who has Stage 4 breast cancer, set up the petition calling for the drug back in 2017.

"This is absolutely huge for people with breast cancer, it gives us a chance," she said.

"Every day we're alive we're a step closer to this being a managed disease, or having a cure. And it's kept the cancer at bay and if the cancer's not growing, then you're still alive."

More than 600 women are diagnosed with advanced breast cancer every year.

The battle to get the life-prolonging drug funded has been going on for several years. In October 2018, around 200 people with breast cancer - including Terre Nicholson - marched on Parliament demanding funding for the drug.

"I started the petition for Ibrance shortly after Labour was elected, so three years ago.

"Our group of Metavivors - which is people with Stage 4 of breast cancer - we lose between 20 and 30 every year, and a lot of them are relatively young women.

"We've all had a common goal, which is better outcomes and better access to drugs for breast cancer patients, and a lot of the woman that supported this knew that they wouldn't be here, and it would be too late for them, but we sure don't want our daughters to have to face this battle."

World-leading oncologist Dr Fatima Cardoso has commended the decision.

Dr Cardoso, the global expert on advanced breast cancer, visited New Zealand in 2019 and said she agreed with Breast Cancer Foundation NZ's view that "Kiwis are dying too soon" as a result of poor access to cancer treatment.

In a response to the news of opening up access to Ibrance, she said: "New Zealand is now on the right path.

"Access to such innovative and effective treatments, together with high quality guidelines, is the only way to change the outcome for metastatic (advanced) breast cancer patients."

Ibrance was registered by Medsafe in New Zealand in 2017. It works by delaying cancer cell division and growth.

In some cases, patients require the use of fulvestrant in combination with Ibrance. Fulvestrant is not yet registered with Medsafe, although Pharmac said when it is needed, it will be funded also.

Pharmac had previously said it was important to get fulvestrant funded following Medsafe registration.