New can­cer drug gains ap­proval


A drug that can give pa­tients with ad­vanced breast can­cer a longer life has been ap­proved for use in New Zealand – but a can­cer suf­ferer warns most peo­ple won’t be able to af­ford it.

A month’s sup­ply of the drug, called Ibrance, will cost $5000.

‘‘This drug is cur­rently so ex­pen­sive that it will be out of reach for most New Zealan­ders,’’ says Lower Hutt’s Mary Mar­garet Schuck.

‘‘I hope Phar­mac can fund it so more peo­ple don’t die wait­ing, be­cause they al­ready have.’’

Breast Can­cer Aotearoa Coali­tion (BCAC) chair­woman Libby Burgess said in a state­ment that hun­dreds of Kiwi women could po­ten­tially ben­e­fit from Ibrance now it was avail­able.

The drug of­fers hope for peo­ple with ad­vanced hor­mone re­cep­tor pos­i­tive and HER2-neg­a­tive breast can­cer, she said. It would give them a bet­ter qual­ity of life and more time with their loved ones.

‘‘BCAC and breast can­cer pa­tients are des­per­ate to see Phar­mac fund Ibrance for use in our pub­lic hos­pi­tals, and we hope this will hap­pen in the near fu­ture.’’

Schuck warned on Sun­day that good health­care in New Zealand was in dan­ger of be­com­ing the pre­serve of the rich.

‘‘I hope Phar­mac can fund it so more peo­ple don't die wait­ing, be­cause they al­ready have.’’

‘‘New Zealand needs to think about whether it wants to be a place like the United States where some peo­ple can af­ford health­care and live, and some peo­ple who can’t af­ford it, die.’’

Schuck was di­ag­nosed with ad­vanced breast can­cer in 2016 and has trav­elled to Malaysia five times since then to ac­cess Ibrance.

She said she would con­tinue to do so be­cause at $2500 for a month’s sup­ply there, it was still cheaper than in New Zealand.

She has teenage chil­dren and val­ues ev­ery ex­tra hour she gets with them and her hus­band.

‘‘We are pretty sure the drug is the rea­son I am still alive to­day. I don’t know how long we can con­tinue to do it when our mort­gage grows larger with ev­ery trip over­seas.

‘‘I’m re­ally wor­ried that the day will come when I’ll have to stop tak­ing Ibrance be­cause we can no longer af­ford it. And that will bring my death that much closer.’’

Pre­lim­i­nary clin­i­cal ev­i­dence for Ibrance was so strong that the United States Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion fast-tracked its use in Amer­ica, BCAC said.

But Schuck said it had joined a back­log of about 100 drugs that Phar­mac has to eval­u­ate be­fore the drug-buy­ing agency will fund it.

‘‘Phar­mac don’t get enough money from gov­ern­ment and it means peo­ple miss out on po­ten­tially life-sav­ing treat­ments.

‘‘The money is in the sys­tem. Does Hawke’s Bay re­ally need a new road? That money could be the dif­fer­ence for a lot of sick peo­ple.’’

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