Cancer advocates hail funding of breast cancer drug Keytruda

Desperate patients with the most aggressive form of breast cancer will no longer have to re-mortgage their homes, launch public appeals or move overseas, now Pharmac is moving to fund their treatment, say advocates.

Following its big budget boost, the government’s drug funding agency plans to fund Keytruda from 1 October for advanced triple negative breast cancer, head and neck cancer, colorectal cancer, bladder cancer and Hodgkin lymphoma.

Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition chairperson Libby Burgess described it as “fantastic news”.

“This is the first targeted therapy to be offered to New Zealanders with this aggressive form of the disease. The recent boost in funding for Pharmac to give access to more effective modern medicines will make a huge difference to the lives of many patients and their families.”

Breast Cancer Foundation chief executive Ah-Leen Rayner said it was “an historic day”.

Keytruda costs about $8000 a fortnight, “plus administration costs”, she said.

“Not many people can just pay for that out of their bank account, which is why so many people have resorted to re-mortgaging their homes, selling everything they own, going public with really personal medical details on sites like Give-A-Little, or even moving overseas to access treatment.”

She thanked Pharmac “for its swift work” and the government for providing the cash.

“Keytruda is a breakthrough drug that can help patients live significantly longer and healthier lives, and it’s recognised internationally as the best way to treat this form of the disease,” she said.

“Pharmac has done well to work at pace to include Keytruda within the first tranche of cancer medicines as part of the government’s $604 million funding boost. This shows what can be achieved with increased budget and quick processes – something we need to see more of.”

The funding boost – announced by the government last month – followed widespread criticism over the lack of Budget provision to meet National’s pre-election promise to fund 13 extra drugs.

The extra funding of $604m over four years for the Combined Pharmaceuticals Budget was in addition to the $1.774 billion over four years for Pharmac in Budget 2024, which took the drug-buying agency’s four-year budget to $6.294 billion.

Pharmac’s proposal to fund Keytruda includes not only eligible people with advanced triple negative breast cancer, but also head and neck cancer, colorectal cancer, bladder cancer and Hodgkin lymphoma, and nivolumab (branded as Opdivo) from 1 November for eligible people with kidney cancer.

It was expected about 500 patients could benefit in the first year.

Public consultation on the proposal closes on 26 July.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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