16 Mar 2022

Pharmac funds new lung cancer, asthma medicines

4:17 pm on 16 March 2022

Pharmac has secured an agreement for medicines for treating people with lung cancer, ovarian cancer or severe asthma.

Pink tablets in blisters on a blue background. Many packages of pills in silvery blisters. Statins, enzymes, analgesics, antibiotic. Copy space. Healthy, Pharmacy and medical concept

Photo: 123RF

An agreement with AstraZeneca covered new discounts on three medicines the drug-buying agency already purchases, the extension of a medicine for ovarian cancer to more people and the purchase of new medicines to treat people with a severe form of asthma and with stage-three lung cancer, Health Minister Andrew Little said.

"The lung-cancer treatment is particularly significant because it offers people with lung cancer the potential to extend their lives more than what is possible now, especially when combined with what might come out of a multi-million dollar research programme about to get under way," Little said.

Every year, about 1800 New Zealanders die from lung cancer.

"It's the biggest cause of cancer-related death in this country and often it isn't diagnosed until it's too late to treat it," Little said.

"It can be difficult for patients and doctors to recognise the symptoms for what they are, and getting access to scans or biopsies for a timely diagnosis may not be easy."

Research being funded by Te Aho o Te Kahu, the Health Research Council and the Ministry of Health aimes to find effective and equitable ways of detecting lung cancers sooner so people can be treated with medicines like durvalumab, which is part of the bundle Pharmac has secured from AstraZeneca, Little said.

"This is what a joined-up health service looks like - health agencies working together to identify problems and find and implement solutions," Little said.

Other medicines included in the agreement were benralizumab, for treating several eosinophilic asthma, widened access to olaparib, a first-line treatment for some types of ovarian cancer, and discounts on budesonide - the Symbiocort Tubuhaler for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - fulvestrant (Faslodex) for treating a type of breast cancer, and gefitinib (Iressa) a treatment for people whose for lung cancer cells make a protein called epidermal growth factor receptor.

Little said the government had increased Pharmac's funding by 25 percent over four years making deals like this possible.

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