7 Mar 2023

Pharmac makes Keytruda, Tecentriq available for lung cancer patients

2:25 pm on 7 March 2023
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Pembrolizumab, known as Keytruda, will be offered as a first line treatment from 1 April. Photo: Supplied

The Cancer Society is welcoming Pharmac's decision to fund two lung cancer treatments, which will improve outcomes for patients, it says.

Pharmac announced the funding today for people with locally advanced and metastatic non-small cell lung cancer who meet certain eligibility criteria.

Pembrolizumab, known as Keytruda, will be offered as a first line treatment while atezolizumab, known as Tecentriq, will be a later line treatment to improve quality of life for people with advanced non-small cell lung cancer.

The announcement has coincided with Pharmac chairman Steve Maharey offering his resignation to the government over political comments he has made in columns he has written for Stuff.

The government is yet to make a decision on the matter.

Meanwhile, Cancer Society chief executive Lucy Elwood said her organisation was thrilled the immunotherapy treatments would be funded from 1 April.

"This will lead to massive improvements in cancer outcomes for lung cancer patients. I am also really pleased to see that Pharmac is including more patient, NGO [non-government organisation] and sector voices into their processes."

Pharmac's operations director Lisa Williams said lung cancer was the leading cause of cancer deaths in New Zealand.

She was pleased with the feedback Pharmac received supporting the proposal and helping "to make sure we get the decision right for this population".

"As a result, we have made some changes to help ensure access for those who we expect will benefit from treatment and to facilitate access to funded treatment."

Pharmac wanted to ensure it removed barriers for those seeking the drugs "while minimising the impact on the health and disability system".

Roche Products (New Zealand) general manager Alex Muelhaupt said some of the biggest benefits likely to arise from the treatment were improving outcomes for Māori and changing the social stigma of lung cancer.

Merck Sharp & Dohme NZ director Vanessa Gascoigne said the funded access to Keytruda would be a major advance in the availability of cancer medicines within Aotearoa and a step towards more equitable outcomes.

Williams said the latest announcements meant Pharmac had made 39 new funding decisions since 1 July 2022, covering 18 new treatments and widened access to 21 other drugs.

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