Pharmac defends not funding expensive breast cancer drugs

Newstalk ZB ,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 26 March 2019, 4:33p.m.
Breast cancer patients want two drugs to be funded that would prolong their lives. (Photo / Getty)

Pharmac is defending their decision not to fund certain breast cancer drugs. 

For two weeks in a row now, women suffering from breast cancer have taken to parliament to plead for help.

They are looking to secure Pharmac funding for several new breast cancer drugs - Ibrance and Kadcyla - that prolong life, but are currently very expensive in New Zealand.

This is despite them being relatively cheap in other countries, such as Australia and Canada.

However, Pharmac Chief executive Sarah Fitt says that the evidence is not favourable for these drugs. 

She told Larry Williams that they have an expert committee made up of practising oncologists that examines the evidence for those medicines. 

"In the case of Ibrance, they said that though this medicine looks promising, the evidence only showed modest benefits and the price is prohibitively expensive."

Fitt says that Ibrance is competing against other drugs that have "more certainty" around the benefits and are more reasonably priced. 

She agrees that patients are unlikely to pay the $10,000 every three weeks for Kadcyla on their own, but that they committee was also uncertain about that drug. 

"The evidence for that was weak and poor quality. So again, while they made a positive recommendation, it is competing against other medicines as we have a capped budget." 

Both drugs are currently going through a process to see if they would be funded, but they need clearer evidence before they fund them. 

Fitt says that they do fund drugs quickly when the evidence stacks up, but a lot of the drugs do not deliver on what they promise for the prices they charge.

She says that once they have funded a medicine, they have to keep funding it, so they have to be careful before making these commitments. 

Last week, the Cancer Society's Dr Chris Jackson told Larry Williams that cancer patients are worse off in New Zealand then those overseas. 

"We don't spend as much on cancer drugs as other countries do, and we clearly have worse access to cancer drugs than Australia, Canada and the UK. That much is inarguable." 

While she acknowledges that it doesn't help the breast cancer patients, Fitt says that the issue of a capped budget is why not as many drugs are funded in New Zealand as they are in those countries. 

"We have to make sure we are spending money wisely. If we fund these medicines, we don't fund something else." 

She says that funding more medicines does not necessarily give people better outcomes. 

"The survival rate of breast cancer in this country is higher than the OECD average, and our five year survival across many cancers is the highest in the world." 

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