ZB

Pharmac HIV treatment change should give patients more privacy

Author
John Weekes, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 15 Jun 2022, 2:30pm
Breast Cancer Foundation NZ chief executive Ah-Leen Ryaner (left) says the new breast cancer medication funding will save lives. (Photo / Hauraki-Coromandel Post)
Breast Cancer Foundation NZ chief executive Ah-Leen Ryaner (left) says the new breast cancer medication funding will save lives. (Photo / Hauraki-Coromandel Post)

Pharmac HIV treatment change should give patients more privacy

Author
John Weekes, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 15 Jun 2022, 2:30pm

More cancer medications will be funded and HIV treatment will be more accessible after Pharmac outlined how it will start spending an extra $191 million in Budget money.

The drug-buying agency today said more blood and breast cancer medicines will be funded, as will eight multiple sclerosis treatments.

It will also get easier for people to access HIV treatments, with changes to criteria for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

All the changes will take effect on July 1, in what Pharmac called the first round of medicine funding decisions.

More people could have access to PrEP, which has been partly funded since 2018 and PEP, which has had some funding since 2009.

The Burnett Foundation Aotearoa, formerly known as the Aids Foundation, welcomed today's announcement.

"For us it's an exciting development, particularly for people at risk of HIV," Burnett Foundation chief executive Joe Rich said.

"It removes a key barrier that people tell us about the current criteria for getting PrEP."

Rich said current criteria required many people to disclose highly intimate detail about sexual practices to clinicians.

He said under the new regime, doctors will be able to use their own judgement to decide if somebody could benefit from PrEP.

"Our ultimate goal is to eliminate new transmissions of HIV."

The new funding changes would help achieve that goal and build on years of progress, he said.

Pharmac's Director of Operations Lisa Williams said funding criteria were previously narrow for these treatments.

"The prescriber will only need to confirm that the patient is HIV negative, and they consider the patient is at elevated risk of HIV exposure and use of PrEP is clinically appropriate," Williams said.

Pharmac is also widening access to eight medicines used for relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis.

The agency said people who experienced one clinical episode of multiple sclerosis and met clinical criteria could be eligible for funded treatment.

One new cancer treatment will be funded and access will be widened to two others.

The agency will fund trastuzumab emtansine for early breast cancer and gemtuzumab ozogamicin for newly diagnosed acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).

AML causes overproduction of immature white cells which crowd bone marrow and prevent it from making normal blood cells, according to Leukaemia & Blood Cancer NZ.

It will also widen access to azacitidine for treatment-related myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myeloid leukaemia.

Ah-Leen Rayner, Breast Cancer Foundation chief executive, welcomed the funding and said it would support someone with high risk of HER2-positive breast cancer.

Pacific women and younger women were especially likely to benefit from the funding, which would treat a disease that would otherwise be lethal.

"It is life-saving," Rayner said of the new funding.

Te Aho o Te Kahu, the Cancer Control Agency, said it welcomed the increased access to breast and blood cancer medicines.

"We expect to see tangible improvements for people living with cancer across Aotearoa as a result of recent announcements," agency chief executive Dr Diana Sarfati said.

Pharmac came under fire earlier this year after reports many people were missing out on many potentially life-saving treatments.

Researchers identified numerous cases where drugs funded in Australia were not being funded in New Zealand.

Dr Malcolm Mulholland, who advocates for better access to drug funding and lost his wife Wiki to breast cancer, said the country was still playing catch-up.

He said today's announcements were underwhelming.

"This is not about funding new medicines. This is about funding medicines that should've been funded years ago."

He said many patient advocates were still fighting for access to drugs publicly-funded in Australia.

Among them is Chauntel Wedlake, whose daughter Zoey suffers from the rare disorder known as spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).

Zoey travelled with family and about 30 other patients and relatives to Wellington last month for the Budget.

Wedlake today she'd been contacting pharmaceutical companies and Pharmac about SMA treatment.

"It's upsetting because we're stuck in limbo, waiting for answers."

A review of Pharmac sent to Health Minister Andrew Little and released publicly on June 1 found people with rare disorders faced unreasonably bad health outcomes because of systemic failings.

Wedlake said an SMA treatment publicly-funded in Australia was still not funded in New Zealand.

Until that changed, she said the family could not commit to buying a house or settling down.

She said the lack of funding meant her family had to seriously consider moving to Australia.

When Budget 2022 was announced, Little said some of the new money would be for new medicines and some for existing medicines Pharmac would like to fund for wider use.

He said Pharmac assured him it would use the $191 million to secure as many medicines on its list as it could, with a focus on better cancer treatments.