Mesothelioma drug comes at a cost
THE development of an exciting but expensive drug that fights the aggressive terminal lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure, mesothelioma, has raised legal questions about who should pay the treatment costs.
Keytruda, developed to treat melanoma, has shown promising results in an initial human trial, slowing cancer growth and even shrinking tumours in people who have had unsuccessful chemotherapy.
The drug works on the immune system, allowing the body’s own defences to destroy the cancer.
Earlier this year, in an American trial of the drug on mesothelioma sufferers whose tumours kept growing despite receiving standard chemotherapy, 76 per saw their tumour either stop growing or begin to shrink.
Many Australian oncologists have begun offering the drug as a second line-treatment for mesothelioma.
Unfortunately, Keytruda is listed on the PBS only for melanoma treatments, meaning mesothelioma sufferers need to pay about $3,000 a week for two years — a total of $300,000 - to undergo the full treatment.
There are a number of ongoing legal cases where the cost of Keytruda is being claimed, and many mesothelioma patients are watching these closely.
The test for whether mesothelioma sufferers who have a current common law claim can seek the cost of the treatment is whether the expense is reasonable in the circumstances of both the plaintiff and the defendant. So far defendants have challenged their liability to pay for the treatment.
Applications have also been made to the NSW Dust Diseases Board, which recently became the Dust Diseases Authority, seeking payment for the treatment.
So far, those applications have been refused on the basis that Keytruda has not been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for the treatment of mesothelioma.
The answer is unlikely to be clarified until an appeal of these decisions is heard by the NSW District Court.