11 Jun 2024

Cancer drugs funding 'actively' being worked on - Nicola Willis

7:22 am on 11 June 2024
Nicola Willis gives a pre-budget speech to the Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce

Finance Minister Nicola Willis says the government is still looking at the best way to fund 13 cancer treatments that were promised during National's election campaign. Photo: RNZ/Samuel Rillstone

The government has been accused of funding potholes over cancer patients, but the Finance Minister says it is "actively working" on funding promised cancer drugs that were left out of the Budget.

Auckland man Richard - who has bowel cancer - is now paying out nearly $50,000 of his own money for a life-extending drug - one of those the prime minister had promised to fund.

"If I am on a hearse driving to the crematorium, at least there won't be any potholes on the road," Richard told Checkpoint on Monday.

Cetuximab is not currently funded by drug agency Pharmac, but Richard's oncologist told him the combination might give him a 50 percent chance of living another five years.

"I can only imagine how Richard and his family are feeling, and we are taking the steps needed to ensure that more cancer drugs are funded in the future," Finance Minister Nicola Willis told First Up.

Last August, National promised to spend $280 million on 13 new cancer treatments that would have helped fight bladder, bowel, liver, lung, kidney and head and neck cancers in addition to melanoma.

Cetuximab is one of the 13 treatments. It was to be funded by reinstating the $5 prescription payment. But the treatments were left out of Budget 2024.

The government gave Pharmac a $1.8b boost in the Budget but said that only covered the cost of maintaining funding for existing drugs, and did not stretch to new ones.

Willis said the government was now "actively working" on a policy to deliver those "as soon as possible".

Willis blamed the funding shortfall on the previous Labour government.

"What we discovered on coming into office was that just to keep current medicines funded would have to put in not only the $800m we've predicted but an additional billion on top of that. So a $1.8b funding uplift for Pharmac just to keep it going. That was not anticipated."

The promise of 'soon' was "not good enough for people who are dying", a cancer patient, who spends more than $5000 a month on dabrafenib and trametinib to stay alive, said.

Cancer patients and organisations have called for assurances the funding will still go ahead.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has said the government was aiming to make an announcement on funding cancer drug treatments this year.

The cancer treatments that National promised to fund but did not are:

  • Osimertinib for lung cancer - first-line therapy
  • Osimertinib for lung cancer - second-line therapy
  • Atezolizumab with bevacizumab for liver cancer
  • Cetuximab or panitumumab for bowel cancer - first-line therapy
  • Cetuximab for bowel cancer - second-line therapy
  • Nivolumab with ipilimumab for kidney cancer - first-line therapy
  • Nivolumab for kidney cancer - second-line therapy
  • Axitinib for kidney cancer - second-line therapy
  • Pembrolizumab for bladder cancer
  • Nivolumab for head and neck cancer
  • Nivolumab or pembrolizumab for melanoma (adjuvant)
  • Dabrafenib with trametinib for melanoma (adjuvant)
  • BRAF/MEK inhibitors for melanoma (unresectable)

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