Mesothe­lioma drug comes at a cost

Mt Druitt - St Mary's Standard (East) - - NEWS - All copy pro­vided by Turner Free­man lawyers; turn­er­free­mannsw.com.au

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.

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